Road workers detail terrifying crashes in work zones

Work Zone Awareness Week coincides with start of construction season
tdot memorial
Posted at 11:06 AM, Apr 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-14 09:11:59-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Steven Capps used to drive a white pickup truck to and from paving projects he supervises for The Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Now, his burned-out and mangled shell of a truck sits in a makeshift memorial along the South Loop.

Capps's truck after the crash on I-40

"A car came in the lane closure and hit me," he said. "I never even seen it coming."

Capps was sitting in the pickup when the speeding car ran through the cones, past a Metro Police car and slammed into him near the airport. It caused his truck to catch fire and fly into the only open traffic lane.

"It knocked me across into live traffic and I was hit by an 18-wheeler," he said. Amazingly, he got out of the car with just a scratch. The driver responsible was sent to the hospital.

Drivers behaving badly in work zones is nothing new. TDOT reports that 112 employees have been killed in the line of duty since the 1940s.

One of them is David Younger. It's been exactly six years since his family got the news that he had been killed on Interstate 40 in Hickman County.

Work Zone Awareness Week: Family remembers TDOT worker killed on duty

"My dad is more than just a TDOT worker," said his daughter Sarah Tolentino. "My dad was a softball coach, my dad was a fisherman, my dad was a man that went to church all the time that helped at church... He would always go out of the way to help people. And that's what he did here with TDOT."

On April 28, 2016, he was helping another TDOT crew change a tire when a truck driver who was not paying attention slammed into the group and killed him.

"It’s a variety: people not paying attention, distracted driving, people who have been impaired. There was one it was a medical episode," said Help Truck Operator Scott Pendergast, who has been involved in nine crashes during his six years with TDOT.

He thinks a majority of drivers try to do the right thing. But there are too many who don't even notice the work zone because they're distracted, while others are too impatient to slow down.

"You could ruin somebody's life, your life. Financially, is it really worth it to save a couple of minutes?" he asked.

tdot memorial

This Work Zone Awareness Week, a makeshift memorial on I-40 at the South Loop is meant to get drivers' attention. TDOT asks drivers to slow down, pay attention and move over — not just to be courteous.

It's also the law.

When drivers pull up to an emergency crew, a road crew, utility worker or regular person with their flashers on, they must move to an adjacent lane. If the driver cannot move over, they have to slow down and proceed with due caution for the safety of the people on the side of the road.

Drivers who don't comply risk a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail. Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers cited nearly 1,000 drivers last year for the Move Over law.

But beyond a ticket, the life you save could be your own.

Twenty-six people died in work zone crashes last year. TDOT hasn't lost an employee since 2016.

Most people killed in work zone crashes are drivers and passengers. And the number of people killed in work zones has been steadily rising in recent years. In 2017, 13 people had been killed, a number that doubled by 2021.

Work zone deaths by TDOT region

But there are other impacts as well.

In 2021, more than 4,000 drivers who crashed in work zones across the state injured more than 1,000 people.

When you pull up to a work crew they ask that you work with them: slow down and move over.

"Everybody's gotta get somewhere," Pendergast said. "Just have patience, take your time, pay attention. Everybody wants to get home safely."