Friday, June 1, 2018

Incident Response Team member jumps over guardrail to avoid being hit by drunk driver

By Tina Werner

It was an early September morning in 2017 and Kathy Vatter was almost on vacation. She didn’t know things were about to change.

Driving conditions on State Route 512 in Parkland near Pacific Avenue were clear and dry, what some would refer to as a "calm night." But calm nights can change in an instant, as it did for Kathy, an Incident Response Team Supervisor and a 33-year employee with our agency.

Around 3 a.m., Kathy received a call from our traffic management center that there had been a deadly collision on SR 512. She arrived on scene to set up traffic control, turning on her flashing orange arrows to divert and warn traffic away from the crash area. As cars flew by, Kathy noticed one particular vehicle that appeared to be approaching the scene and not slowing down.

"It was in that moment I knew they weren’t going to move over and I needed to act fast," Kathy said.

To avoid being hit, Kathy jumped over the highway guardrail. Within seconds, the oncoming vehicle slammed into her IRT truck with such force that both vehicles were totaled.
Kathy Vatter’s IRT truck was hit by a drunk driver on SR 512 in Parkland.

"It seemed like forever," Kathy said.

The causing driver was driving under the influence of alcohol. The driver’s passenger suffered serious injuries in the collision. That’s statistically common, as 96 percent of people hurt in work zone collisions are the motorist, their passengers or passing pedestrians.

Fortunately, Kathy wasn’t hurt, and in fact helped direct traffic through the area while the State Patrol and emergency responders worked the scene.
Kathy waited with the motorist and passenger until State Patrol and emergency
responders arrived on scene, while continuing to redirect traffic.

Kathy was lucky, however many of our workers can’t say the same.

Since 1950, we have had 60 workers killed on the job – many of them in marked roadway work zones. On average our state has 837 roadway work zone injuries annually.
The guardrail where Kathy Vatter jumped to avoid being hit by an oncoming drunk driver.

Luckily, Kathy’s awareness of her surroundings and quick action saved her from injury.

"I want to live to retire," she said. "If I had been injured that night, our lives would look a whole lot different."

Fortunately, Kathy and her husband Ron are still able to enjoy their active outdoor lifestyle, including hiking and swimming. But all that could have changed in an instant.
Kathy Vatter and her husband Ron celebrating his 60th birthday.

"I am just glad it was me," Kathy said. "Someone with less experience might not have been so lucky and that would devastate our team."

You can help road workers stay safe by:
  • Slowing down – Drive the posted speeds, they’re there for your safety.
  • Be kind – Our workers are improving the roadways and helping to keep you safe.
  • Pay attention – Both to workers directing you and to surrounding traffic.
  • Stay calm – Expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone’s life.
Remember, road workers have family and friends they want to go home to safely. Please do your part to help.

"Lots of people forget we are humans too," Kathy said.