Erie News Now Investigates: Give them a Brake Part 2
Since 1970, there have been 90 PennDOT employees killed on shift. With cell phones and distracted drivers, the challenge to keep workers safe is more challenging than ever.
It's a major issue across the commonwealth and in northwest Pennsylvania.
In 2021 and 2022, there were a total 101 work zone crashes in in district one, that consists of Erie, Crawford, Warren, Forest, Mercer and Venango counties.
The northwest region had one fatality during that two year period and four suspected serious injuries.
"Pay attention, be alert so that way they can get back home," said Trooper Bertha Cazy, PSP Information Officer. "They have the same goals as all of us who go to work every day, and that's just to get back home to our families safely."
Two PennDOT workers from the northwest region experienced a work zone accident in the summer of 2022.
"We were on Interstate 80. We were cracked ceiling," said Jason Tassone, Highway Maintenance Foreman. "We had our work zone set up and a distracted driver came through, passed our attenuator, our first attenuator and swerved over and hit our second attenuator."
"I was out of the truck, started heading back. The operator called me to say I've been hit. So we ran up, made sure everybody was okay. The driver left," said Tassone. "I proceeded to track down the driver to say, 'Hey, you just hit one of our trucks.'"
"I was watching the crew up in front of me and happened to look in my rearview mirror and watched a truck go past our first attenuator and then later and drift back over into my lane," said Hunter Cook, Flag & Equipment Operator. "And the closer he got and kept going the same speed and I realized I was going to get smashed."
A crash attenuator or crash cushion played a critical role in the accident, the device helps reduce damage to structures or vehicles.
"They don't they don't pay attention to you," said Tassone. "And just with social media, everybody's trying to stay connected with somebody and they're not paying attention driving."
No one expects it to happen on the job but when it does, it's a major jolt to endure."
"I was pretty shook up," said Cook. "Yeah, I was shaken for a while."
After being hit, this is Cook's message to people that are driving through work zones too fast, and not paying attention: "Pay attention and slow down those signs and all those lights are there for a reason. Come on, man. You know, just stay off your phone. You're behind the wheel of a car. We all know this. This is common knowledge. Everybody knows not to be on their cell phone whenever they're driving. Get to point B, get on your phone, do whatever you got to do whenever you get there."
Since 1970, 90 PennDOT employees have been killed in the line of duty.
PennDOT officials believe the Automated Work Zone Safety Speed Enforcement Initiative, which was introduced in 2020, has had a major impact reducing work zone speeds, improving driver behavior and making more drivers aware of work zone safety.