The Washington Department of Transportation held its annual memorial for fallen workers Wednesday morning. DOT has lost 59 workers since 1950, but as has been the case during most of the past decade, the agency in 2012 enjoyed a year without a single employee’s life lost on the job.
Even so, the mood was a bit somber as a 100 or so workers and state officials gathered in the DOT headquarters lobby in Olympia for a service. Gov. Jay Inslee called the state DOT workforce “heroes in orange” and said those who labor in work zones put their lives on the line every day.
“They stand six inches from that fog line and people are zipping by speeding and not slowing down. They are heroes,” Inslee said. “They put their lives in danger during stormy weather, they are heroes.’’
Inslee, a first-year Democrat, also used the opportunity to pitch for legislation action he announced this week that might help keep repeat drunken drivers off the road.
“It’s tough enough standing inches from that fog line when people are whizzing by. We don’t need impaired drivers adding to the dangers you face,’’ Inslee said.
The event came just hours after a close call along State Route 509 – when a crew using a pump truck to suck debris out of drain basins avoided injury. A vehicle hit the rear wheels of the truck, bounced off, hit a median, but avoided hitting two workers on the ground in front of the truck, according to DOT’s Olympic Region administrator, Kevin Dayton.
The Washington State Patrol confirmed that a 48-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. No one was hurt in the accident at State Route 509 at the intersection with Port of Tacoma Road in Tacoma.
The memorial comes during DOT’s yearly Work Zone Safety Awareness Week and new DOT Secretary Lynn Peterson said the Go Orange campaign uses a color that is most easily seen.
“This is about bringing attention to the fact that work zones are not a safe environment,” she said. “While we realize that people are in a hurry they need to slow down, they need to pay attention. And they need to keep an eye out for anything that might not be what they expected. So if they are going slow they don’t hit anything.”
The last worker to die in the line of duty at DOT was Billy “Bud” Rhynalds, a DOT worker from North Bend who was hit by a falling tree as he put out traffic cones as a warning to motorists after a storm knocked down power lines near Carnation on Jan. 16, 2011. His daughter, Aimee (Rhynalds) Sherrill, and son-in-law Jerry Sherrill were there along with survivors of other DOT workers killed on the job.
Sherrill said she was there “in memory of my father.” Her husband said workers “are overlooked a lot of the time on the roadway. … Unfortunately they don’t wear a badge but their orange vests should be a badge.”
The DOT event is followed next week by a worker memorial event sponsored by the Department of Labor and Industries in Tumwater. It will honor 66 people who died in jobs across the state last year and takes place at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 23.