Safety trumps aggravation
County eyes road crew protection after incident with 80-year-old driver
EASTON — In the aftermath of Talbot County’s roads superintendent being hit and injured by a motorist in August while county crews worked on a stretch of road, county officials want to stress to the public the importance of work zone safety.
“It’s a problem that we need to make sure the citizens and visitors of this county are aware of, and that there’s a greater understanding that we’re not doing it (road work) to aggravate or to slow down or delay people, as much as doing our job to better the community,” Talbot County Manager Andy Hollis said.
On Aug. 18, County Roads Superintended Warren Edwards and crews were on Station Road fixing a pipe that needed to be repaired. Edwards was hit by Royal Oak r esident Colin Clive Pattenden, 80, after he ignored signs and a flagger, and was warned by Edwards himself not to travel down the road crews were working on.
“This motorist chose to go through, was stopped, and then chose to get back in his vehicle, put it in drive and proceed anyway with Mr. Edwards’ life in peril, and I’m not even embellishing,” Hollis said. “I’m not over-exaggerating when I say he literally could have been killed.”
Pattenden was convicted of second-degree assault
and intentionally running his pickup truck into Edwards, but took an Alford plea, meaning he maintained his innocence but admitted the prosecutor had enough evidence to convict him. He was ordered to serve 18 months of probation and undergo mental health evaluations and anger management therapy.
Edwards suffered serious injuries as a result of the incident. In a previous article in The Star Democrat, Pattenden’s attorney, Stephanie Shipley, was quoted as saying in court that there were no road construction signs on Station Road that day. Edwards said there were signs, one on each end of the road outside the area where crews were working, and two flaggers set up on either side, too — a standard procedure he always uses.
“Warren’s case is a a prime example how increasingly, at least at the local level, you feel a lack of regard for proper signage and instruction, detouring and things of that sort,” Hollis said.
“Under Warren’s leadership down at the roads department, we have so focused and increased our focus on safety, and it’s to his credit,” Hollis said. “But even in spite of that, what Warren is telling me — and certainly his situation is an example — the threats, the challenges, the lack of concern over respect by the motoring public is increasing, not decreasing.”
There have been other instances of work zone injuries in Talbot County. In 2014, a flagger controlling traffic on St. Michaels Road during a construction operation was hit and killed.
Nationally, a work zone crash occurs on average once every 5.4 minutes, and every day, 70 work zone crashes happen that resulted in at least one injury, and 12 work zone crashes happen that resulted in at least one fatality, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2014, there were 669 fatalities from crashes in work zones, which equates to 2 percent of all roadway fatalities.
Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37BTalbot, said crews were on Station Road that day after a standard request from his office, and when he got the text Edwards had been hit, it was “heart-breaking.”
Since then, in his discussions with other road workers, Mautz said “virtually every flag man I’ve talked to” has shared incidents about being “harassed, if not assaulted on the job.”
He now is considering legislation to address charges and the points system in work zone accidents.
“It’s a very dangerous job, more dangerous that I have known before,” Mautz said.
Edwards sees that from motorists every day, he said.
“Every time we have a work zone, at least one person a day comes through angry, is running late, yells because we didn’t give them a personal phone call,” he said.
Most Talbot County roads don’t have shoulders, “so if we have a lane closure or a work zone, as much as we can, we try to do what’s called through-traffic only,” Edwards said.
Another challenge for Talbot is often there will be multiple projects on the same road, Edwards said. There could be a county roads crew fixing a pothole, and further down the road there’s a crew from a phone company working on a utility pole.
The county wants to get the message out to motorists — pay attention to the road and any road work signs, and possibly most of all, follow directions. If a sign says no entry, don’t decide to drive down the road anyway — “it’s not an option to comply with going through a work zone or not,” Hollis said.
“This isn’t just a casual issue. This is a big deal that, unfortunately, because of the second-degree assault conviction with the Alford plea, doesn’t carry the weight it should,” Hollis said. “We need to get the message out to the public that this is a big deal. It’s not a joke, and people’s lives are truly at stake, and it’s not option whether you’re going to comply or not.”