Local News

Safety Is Under Construction for Road Workers In the Danger Zone

Posted July 22, 1999

— How would you like it if someone drove through your workplace at 65 miles an hour? A Public Service Announcement poses the question thousands ofDOTemployees are forced to answer every day on the job.

"We want for that 30 seconds to be memorable," says DOT Safety Director Duane Mac Entee. Planners want to draw attention to the fact that the bright orange barrels signal a work zone.

"When there's construction activity, it's real easy to look around and to want to pay attention to what's going on and be distracted," Entee says. But a moment of distraction can lead to disaster.

Road construction workers do their jobs just yards -- and sometimes inches -- from passing cars and trucks.

Walter Wagner has been a road contractor for more than two decades and has seen his share of close calls.

"It's real nerve-wracking," Wagner says.

"Any time you're working next to traffic like this, you're always on edge. You're always watching close," he says.

And with good reason. Last year alone, there were 27 crashes in work zone areas in North Carolina. Thirty-four people died, including four North Carolina construction workers.

Among them was Wendy Allen's twin and Sheila Puckett's little brother, Kendy Ellis. Just 24, Ellis had been with the DOT for seven years and was promoted shortly before his death.

"My mom, when they were three months old, she had a stroke. So she was unable to take care of them. So I more or less took care of them since then. So he was like my own son," Puckett says.

Ellis was working on Highway 68 in what is called the gore -- the area between the highway and the merge lanes -- when a car suddenly cut through the gore, hitting him and throwing him well over a hundred feet to his death.

The two women are using the Internet as an outlet for their grief. They have launched aWeb sitededicated to their brother.

The Web site has their thoughts and photographs of Ellis. It also has links to the DOT's home page and work zone information. Allen says the fledgling site has received more than 600 hits so far.

At the location where Ellis died, his family and co-workers have erected a roadside memorial, a symbol that something went terribly wrong on the stretch of highway one day.

But family members say the flowers are also a source of hope and strength. "If we can prevent one more person from going through what we've been through, that's what we're really trying to do," Puckett says.

Anyone caught speeding through a work zone should be prepared to pay a $250 fine. The penalty is part of the new Highway and Work Zone Safety law.

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