The death of a Missouri Department of Transportation motorist-assist worker last week is a sad illustration of why a new state law was enacted to protect emergency responders and highway workers who work within feet of speeding traffic, state transportation officials said.
Clifton Scott, 50, of Kansas City, died after being struck by a car on Interstate 70 near the I-470 interchange in Independence at 2:52 a.m. Friday. The 15-year MoDOT employee was helping to reroute traffic around the scene of an earlier four-vehicle crash. David Murdick, 35, of Blue Springs, was charged with involuntary manslaughter after tests indicated his blood alcohol contest was .184, more than twice the legal limit to drive.
“What happened to Clifton is an example of a motorist running through an active traffic-control area, through the cones,” said MoDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Benefield.
The new state law that went into effect Aug. 28 requires drivers to change lanes and yield for stopped Department of Transportation vehicles just like they already were required to do for police cars, ambulances and other emergency responders. Violating the law is a Class A misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
MoDOT estimates 2,400 of its employees work each day near the roadside. Scott is the first department employee killed this year and the fifth since 2000, department spokesman Bob Brendel said.
He said the new law was a welcome change for highway workers who put their lives at risk every day.
“I know our employees were very happy when that law was passed,” Brendel said. “This is an example of why it was needed. Their office is along a 70 mph highway, they’re doing very dangerous work that requires concentration and they can’t always pay attention to what traffic is doing beside them.”
Scott, who had received a plaque Monday marking his 15 years with the department, was considered a leader among his crews and loved his job, Benefield said.
Scott worked the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, and many of his colleagues learned about his death during a shift change, she said. Several motorist-assist employees were too upset to work and all were sent home for the day. Benefield said motorist-assist services in the Kansas City area were shut down over the weekend but could resume Monday.
Inattentive drivers have always been a concern for law enforcement officers who spend much of their time standing along highways, said Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
“I don’t think anyone who has worked on patrol for very long couldn’t tell you a story of feeling a car go by and all but hitting you in the back or side as your standing on the side of the road,” he said.
Hotz said the Highway Patrol hasn’t lost any officers this year to roadside crashes, but that’s not always been the case. Because of its experience with those kinds of accidents, he said the agency can identify with what Scott’s co-workers and family members are going through.
“Certainly our prayers go out to the MoDOT family now,” Hotz said. “We’ve been through this situation several times, and it is very difficult. Laws are put in place because we continue to have problems. I think the biggest thing we need to do is stress to people the importance of paying attention.”
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