One of our injured road crew workers shares his story and why slowing down in work zones is so important
By Barbara LaBoe
The sound of a jackknifed truck skidding toward him haunts Greg King's nightmares.
He's slowly recovering physically from injuries in a work zone crash in January, but Greg, one of our Olympic Region maintenance technicians, said he can still hear the trailer coming at him as he ran for his life. His quick action got him far enough away that he was struck and injured rather than killed on that rainy January day near Aberdeen. But he's still not recovered.
Greg came to WSDOT in 2001, looking for a job that allowed him to raise his three daughters as a single dad. The family-friendly schedule, he said, allowed him to make school and doctor's appointments for his girls, now all grown. His daughters sometimes worried about him on the side of the road, but Greg told them his crew took precautions and had equipment to keep each other safe.
|WSDOT worker Greg King, injured when a semi truck struck him on SR 105 in Aberdeen in Jan. 2016.|
Greg had had close calls before. Everyone who has worked on a work crew for any length of time has, he said. Our traffic analysts will tell you the top three causes of work zone crashes are inattentive driving, following too closely and speeding. Greg already knew that.
He's seen drivers making breakfast as they come through work zones. Or putting on make-up. Or, more and more, talking on or looking at their cell phones. Anything but paying attention to the workers and safety signs.
On Jan. 21, what Greg saw was a semi coming toward him as he flagged on State Route 105 near Aberdeen. The truck didn't slow down despite four posted warning signs of the work ahead.
As the truck kept coming, Greg started running. He said he just knew he had to try and get out of the way, even though he feared it was too late.
"I thought I was dead," he said.
The truck driver, finally noticing Greg, hit his brakes, causing the truck to jackknife. That's when the trailer started skidding – right toward Greg, striking him on his left side.
"It was like he was swatted with a fly swatter," said Harry "Butch" Blair, who was in the car behind the semi. "He went flying."
|Governor Jay Inslee thanks Butch and Connie Blair, who came to the aid of injured road worker Greg King in Jan. 2016.|
"I remember my feet going up over my head and thinking 'This is it,'" Greg said.
Greg landed 60 feet away, face down in swamp water. Greg doesn't remember much about that, but Blair and his wife Connie rushed to help him, turning him over so he didn't drown in the water. His crew hadn't seen him get hit, so the Blairs were guardian angels that day.
Greg's daugthers were called saying he'd been taken to the hospital, but they didn't know the extent of his injuries until they got there. His arm was broken, ribs bruised and he was black and blue from his shoulder to his ankle. He may need back surgery and he's still working to deal with the stress, sleeplessness and nightmares from the crash.
It seems odd to say, given his injuries, but in a couple of ways Greg was lucky that day. By starting running he got far enough away from the trailer to not get directly hit. Troopers also told him that if he'd been flung forward instead of to the side, the trailer would have certainly killed him. And, of course, without the Blairs, Greg might have survived the crash but died from drowning.
He doesn't want to count on being lucky again, though. And he doesn't want any of our other work crews to go through what he did that day.
We've had two other workers injured since Jan. 21 – one on a road crew and another loading vehicles on a ferry – and a number of close calls. We're also seeing concerning driving patterns, with drivers failing to yield to emergency vehicles, driving erratically and speeding – sometimes in excess of 100 mph.
|WSDOT worker Greg King shares his story with Governor Jay Inslee during the 2016 Worker Memorial event.|
Greg would like to see more education for new drivers about work zones and what the notices and signs mean. And, most of all, he'd like people to slow down and pay attention around work zones. This might be National Work Zone Awareness Week, but Greg said road crews – and all transportation workers – need to be safe 365 days a year.
After all, he said, the work crews are out there to make the roads safer for drivers. Now, they just need drivers' help keeping the workers – and everyone else on the road – safe as well by slowing down and being extra alert around road crews or emergency vehicles.
Greg hopes to return to work once he's healed, but he knows the sound of that skidding trailer will still haunt him at times.
He hopes by sharing his story no one else ever has to hear that.