Friday, September 28, 2018

Face to face with an oncoming vehicle

Clinton Suhr

By Clinton Suhr
As a construction inspector for H.W. Lochner for over 26 years, I have observed numerous accidents and near misses by both the traveling public and the construction crews performing the work. The majority of the accidents could have been avoided if people were more aware of their surroundings.
One of the most recent close calls that I remember was on the U.S. 77/K-18 new diamond interchange. The contractor had all of the traffic control in place to allow for the permanent striping of a section of roadway that was five-lanes wide with the center lane being hashed out.
They closed the inside three lanes of traffic with trim lines and all of the traffic was split out on the outside two lanes. They striped all of the long lines and normalized traffic. The center lane chevrons were striped with a hand sprayer mounted to the truck. The construction crew and inspection staff were working inside the double yellow center lane with a mobile operation.  As the paint truck was going to the next location, I requested it to come back and redo one of the locations.
As I ran out from behind the truck to stop the driver, I found myself face to face with an oncoming vehicle. The vehicle was paying attention and was aware of their surroundings, but I was not. I had become comfortable with the closed work zone area we had been working in. This shook me up for a bit and I will certainly not forget it.

Clinton Suhr is the Associate/Construction Inspection Manager for Lochner in Salina.



Thursday, September 27, 2018

Notifying next of kin a dreaded duty

By Randy Mosher
Randy Mosher
As I sit here today reflecting on my 32 years as a Kansas State Trooper, it’s hard to think of a stretch of highway in southwest Kansas that I haven’t seen a fatality accident. Through the years I have had many responsibilities and duties. The duty that I dreaded the most, and that affected me the most, was the responsibility to make death notifications to the next of kin of those who died in fatality crashes.
I have been the messenger that has changed people’s lives forever, and those notifications have changed me forever. I have been hit, called a liar and asked why more times than I care to remember.
I remember every time I have pulled up to the houses of loved ones, put on my campaign hat, practiced what I was going to say, and then the long wait for someone to come to the door. Then comes the moment where the door opens, and the person realizes that there is a State Trooper at their door in the middle of the night, and their world is going to change forever.
I have told friends, and complete strangers that their loved ones would never come home again. I have shed tears for all of them. Some right there, right then. Some, at home alone or in my car. I remember all of them. Some still visit me regularly in person, and some in my dreams.
I remember one of the crashes when I was stationed in Lakin when three teenagers were killed, and I was the first on scene. I remember the helpless feeling of not being able to help the victims. I remember talking to the entire high school where the kids went to school and telling them what I could about the accident, but most of all I remember their parents.
I remember an accident in Finney county that killed four people. I made notification to one person’s parents in Lakin and still remember the faces of his parents today. Those same parents played in a local band for years and played at the Kansas State Fair. I was working the fair when they were playing, and they saw me on a golf cart patrolling the fairgrounds. They called to me on the microphone and said they wanted to play a song for me. They explained to the crowd that I had made the notification of their son’s death and they wanted to play a song for me. That was the day that the big trooper on the golf cart cried his eyes out!
I remember one of my last notifications. I was at home taking my dinner break, when dispatch called me about a fatality crash involving a motorcycle north of Garden City. Dispatch told me the name of the person killed and my heart sank. It was a friend of mine. I went to Garden City High School with him and his wife and had worked with both in different capacities. I visit his final resting place often.
Fatality crashes affect so many people and communities.  I have been to many of the funerals of those killed in crashes that I have worked. The families and the communities are forever changed. As I reflect on these crashes I think “only if,” only if circumstances had been different and we had not lost these lives? I ask each of you who reads this to think what they can do to put the brakes on fatalities.

Captain Randy Mosher is the Troop E Commander for the Kansas Highway Patrol.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Near misses all too common in work zones

By Doug Pulliam
Doug Pulliam
During my past 18 years at KDOT, I have witnessed many near-miss accidents. Most were during my 10-plus years in maintenance, however, that does not exclude instances on the construction side.   
Temporary Traffic Control (TTC) devices or a TTC plan help drivers navigate through a work zone. However, with all the effort that goes into TTC, there are still accidents that occur. In my construction experience, the most frequent are rear-ending incidents.

Most often they are found to be caused by drivers being preoccupied. I have witnessed people being distracted from their driving by such things as reading, putting on makeup, other passengers and the incessant bombardment of the use of electronic devices. These are just a few but are at the top of the list of things that preoccupy drivers.

While working on the Area Crew, I was involved in a few near misses. One instance has stuck with me as a reminder of how quickly things can become life-threatening. While placing an asphalt pavement patch on a section of highway, we had advanced warning signs and flaggers on this small operation. After traffic was released from one end, the vehicles moved through the work zone at a slow speed.
The trailing vehicle happened to be an 18-wheeler hauling materials. He was apparently trying to catch up to the other vehicles as he was moving at a high rate of speed when he reached the paver and made no effort to slow down. The asphalt paving screed operator working on the centerline side was attempting to clear an obstruction in the wing as the truck approached. Not having time to get around the equipment, his only action was to jump over the side of the hopper and into the paver bed. 
The other men on the crew abandoned the machine and sought refuge away from the equipment. The truck’s mirror struck the handle of a shovel that was secured on the paver wing. The impact sent broken wood and glass flying in all directions. There was no damage to the equipment and only minor scrapes and bruises to the crew members. Things could have been much worse without the immediate response of the crew.
During another incident, three cars were involved. Cars 1 and 2 were stopped by the flagger and car 3 struck car 2 from the rear at an estimated speed of 35 mph. That was after the driver of car 3 realized there was something stopped in their lane and slammed on the brakes. Car 2 was forced into car 1, where it nearly hit the flagger. Had the flagger not quickly responded to the first sign of danger by fleeing into the ditch, she well could have become a casualty. 
During an interview with the driver of car 3, the attending officer reported that the driver had stated, “I never saw any orange signs.” Luckily, there were no casualties and only minor damages. None of which would have happened with a little more attentiveness. 

Doug Pulliam is an Engineering Technician Specialist with KDOT in Pittsburg.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Your phone is not worth it

My name is Mike Weibel and I am the step-father of Max Kelly. Some of you may have read the blog that I wrote and was published Sept. 9, 2017, in last year’s safety blog series.

Max was a distracted driver who was involved in a very serious wreck. He was tweeting at the time and rear ended a KDOT snow plow while driving between 75 to 80 miles an hour. His last tweet was at the exact time 911 was called. My past blog told of how his wreck has altered everyone’s lives. I would like to tell our current story of what it is like to live with someone who is addicted to electronics.
Max’s addiction caused him to have a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Currently it is very hard to look at him knowing what type of future he could have had and now looking at him knowing he will never be the same. His mother, Nicole, states, “how do you mourn someone knowing what he could have had in his life.”
Max came home last September. He was in a wheelchair. Our friends raised money for us to re-configure our house to accommodate his disability. This changed the way of life within our household forever.
At first, we had to care for him as if he was an infant. We had to assist him with his way of life, such as helping him into the shower and cutting up his solid food so he could swallow. The number of pills that he must take daily is overwhelming. At times, he can’t remember if he took them or not.
Nicole’s time at the beginning was spent caring for Max and spending at least 2-3 hours a day on the phone with agencies like Kansas Care. Since I work full time and Nicole runs the family business, we still must work for insurance and income. Nicole had to set up care for Max. His therapists are working with him daily so he can gradually fit back into society. He has physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and around the clock monitoring. His therapies are at our home, so we have new people in and out of our home daily. He sees two phycologists to address his behavior. Re-entering into society is going to be hard not only for Max, but also our family.
The TBI has altered Max’s life forever. He is very smart, but he doesn’t know how to get it out of his brain. Max doesn’t realize how bad his injury is. His brain has to re-wire itself to relearning how to talk, swallow, walk, go to the bathroom and every day routines. He is walking with a limp due to having a stroke from the 45-minute extrication from the truck. He has trouble with the simple daily task - like what food is hot and what food is cold when cooking.
Nicole is his legal guardian who handles all his needs. If it wasn’t for Nicole, Max would be in assisted living housing. There are times that Nicole and I have been so stressed out from his behavior - it is hard for our household tending to his daily needs. With me traveling 30-plus times a year and Nicole trying to run a full time catering business, it takes a huge toll on our family.
When I see someone driving down the road texting or answering emails on the phone, it makes me wonder if they think it is worth it. Our family will always tell a story how distracted driving can change not only Max’s life, but everyone’s lives. Your phone is not worth it - just ask Max.

 Mike Weibel is Max’s step-father and is from Topeka.

Monday, September 24, 2018

You never think it’ll happen

By Zach Phillips
Zach Phillips
You never think it’ll happen… until it does. Hi, my name is Zach Phillips and I am a law enforcement officer. I want to share with you a terrifying experience I had involving a person and a train. This particular individual was somehow on the train and while it was moving, they lost their balance and fell between the train cars. 
The fall could have been deadly in itself.  But instead, the train severed their arm just below the shoulder. Luckily for this person, another person on a train that just happened to be passing by noticed the severely injured individual on the train tracks and called for help. Because of that quick response, they were able to rush this person to the hospital where medical staff saved their life, but sadly not their arm. 
After being first on scene, the incident shed a new light on how dangerous trains can be to the human body. Usually trains are just something in the background and often go unnoticed. This incident inspired me to want to help spread the word about train safety.  That’s when I came across Operation Lifesaver, which I have currently been part of for a year now. I want to help raise awareness and hopefully prevent further incidents from happening by spreading the word regarding train safety and hazards of being around trains. People need to realize how quickly a situation can turn deadly!  In fact, once every three hours in the United States someone is hit or killed by a train.
Now after witnessing this incident and having been trained by Operation Lifesaver, I personally take more time at railroad crossings to make sure there is not a train approaching and not just be dependent on the crossing arms to tell me it’s safe. I have witnessed when train crossings have malfunctioned and do not activate when a train was approaching. Or after the crossing arms go up, the lights and crossing arms will activate and go back down immediately with no other train approaching.  I try to remind people of the Blue Emergency Notification System signs located at each train crossing. These important signs have a unique crossing id number that expedite reporting malfunctions or emergency incidents.
I share my past experience with others hoping this will make other people aware of the hazards of trains and trespassing on railroad property. I will continue to spread the word on train safety every chance I get in hopes that I just might save a life.
In Kansas, during 2017, while incidents at grade crossings were down over 2016 numbers, the trespasser incidents were more than doubled according to Federal Railroad Administration. To read more about the most recent statistics in Kansas, you can visit: 2017 State Statistics.
About Operation Lifesaver
Operation Lifesaver is a nonprofit public safety education and awareness organization dedicated to reducing collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail crossings and preventing trespassing on or near railroad tracks. A national network of trained volunteers gives free presentations on rail safety and a public awareness campaign, “#StopTrackTragedies” tips and statistics to encourage safe behavior near the tracks. Learn more at, Facebook, Twitter, or at
National Rail Safety Week is Sept. 23-29 and Kansas will be participating. For more information about events across the nation, visit: National Rail Safety Week Information.
Zach Phillips is a Kansas law enforcement officer and volunteer for Kansas Operation Lifesaver