Work Zone Crash Kills 6 in NY: What We Can Learn From Such Tragedies

A tractor-trailer barreling down a work-congested highway in upstate New York failed to slow down and smashed into several vehicles July 19, killing six people and leaving lots of questions about what happened.

The tractor-trailer caused a chain-reaction collision that prompted an SUV to burst into flames and at least two other vehicles to be struck, according to a story from The Associated Press (AP).

Five people died in the SU, including the driver, Laurie Dana, 42, an elementary school speech therapist from Lawrence, N.Y., her two daughters, ages 14 and 11,  and her mother-in-law, Janet Dana, 69. Also killed was a 14-year-old friend of one of her daughters, the story reported.

Traffic on the roadway “had stopped or was moving slowly because of road repaving” on Route 11 in Antwerp in Jefferson County, according to the report. “The tractor-trailer slammed into the back of one vehicle, causing collisions with a state Department of Transportation truck and the SUV.”

An ambulance stands ready to treat injured victims in this stock photo from a vehicle crash scene on a highway. Image credit: ©

The driver of the first vehicle, 59-year-old Maryann Gregory of Dickinson Center in Franklin County, was also killed in the crash.

The driver of the tractor-trailer that allegedly slammed into the other vehicles was identified by police as James A. Mills Jr. of Myerstown, Pa., who was treated for undisclosed injuries at a hospital. The crash left the driver of the DOT truck, 54-year-old Lewis Lottie Jr. of Nicholville, hospitalized in critical condition with head and chest injuries, the story reported.

“The [crash] site is on a straight, flat section of the two-lane road,” according to the AP story.  “There were plenty of signs warning motorists that crews were working on the road,” police told the news agency. The investigation into how the crash occurred continues.

The tragic accident should be taken as a reminder of the always-present dangers that lurk in highway work zones, where traffic can be halted quickly and without warning.

The number of work zone crash fatalities each year pales in comparison to overall fatalities on the nation’s roadways annually, but they are seemingly more tragic because they shouldn’t even happen due to the reduced speeds set inside work zones.

These shouldn’t be crashes that happen at high speeds, leading to crashes that kill innocent victims. In work zones there are signs posted that usually limit vehicle speeds to at least 20 or more miles-per-hour under the regular posted speed limit.

If drivers are abiding by the lower work zone speed limits, they shouldn’t be involved in crashes that lead to serious injuries and deaths.

According to the latest U.S. Department of Transportation statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, there were 87,606 crashes in work zones in 2010 across the nation, the latest year that full figures are available. That amounts to only 1.6 percent of the 5,419,345 vehicle crashes that occurred in 2010 across the U.S.  Most crashes in work zones do not lead to fatalities, according to the agency – only 0.6 percent, or 514, were fatal crashes.

In those 514 fatal crashes within highway work zones in 2010, there were 576 deaths, according to the government statistics. That equates to about one work zone fatality every 15 hours or 1.6 a day.

The numbers, however, have been dropping since 2005. The 576 deaths in 2010 work zone traffic accidents are a 13.6 percent decrease from 2009 when there were 667 fatalities and a 46 percent decrease from 2005 when there were 1,058 fatalities.

Pennsylvania had 23 work zone fatalities in 2010, while New Jersey had six. New York had five, and Delaware had no fatalities.

Comparatively, there were 32,287 people killed in vehicle crashes on our nation’s roadways, outside of highway work zones in 2010, according to government statistics.

The thing that makes fatalities like those in this week’s crash in New York so tragic is that work zones require motorists to slow down and be more alert due to construction dangers.

The problem is that when these kinds of crashes occur, it’s often when drivers are distracted or lose focus, often not seeing that traffic has slowed ahead of them until it is too late.

With all of the distractions that drivers have today, from cell phones to texting to in-vehicle video screens to loud stereos and even noisy passengers, we all must remember to use much more care and pay more attention, especially while driving through work zones.

The lives of our loved ones and fellow drivers and residents depend on all of us.

Be safe, be alert, follow the posted work zone speed limits and use extra caution.

If you or someone you love is involved is seriously injured in such a crash, feel free to call us here at MyPhillyLawyer so that we can answer your questions and help you with your legal case. Our experienced, compassionate and skilled attorneys are always here to assist you.

When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.