Officials from Caltrans District 7 and dignitaries met in Whittier Thursday to pay tribute to the 183 Caltrans workers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, both locally and statewide.
Coveralls and helmets represented fallen workers at the somber ceremony and damaged equipment was on display as a sobering reminder of the danger faced by Caltrans workers every day.
Of the 183 Caltrans employees killed since 1921, 32 of them worked for Caltrans District 7, which operates in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Caltrans officials said in a written statement.
Speakers at the event, held at Caltrans’ East Region Maintenance Station, 1940 S. Workman Mill Road in Whittier, included California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Bill Dance, a Caltrans worker who was struck by a car on the 10 Freeway last week and his father and others.
“Our crews put themselves in harm’s way to maintain California’s transportation infrastructure and to help ensure motorists and goods and services get to where they need to go,” Caltrans District 7 Director Carrie Bowen said.
“We will never forget our fallen and we will never forget the risks they take every day and night working within a few feet or inches of vehicles zipping by,” Bowen said. “All motorists must remember those that you will leave behind if you become complacent or careless about your safety and the safety of those around you.”
A U.S. Department of Labor study has found highway workers are seven times more likely to be killed while on-duty than the average worker, according to the Caltrans statement.
“On average 1,000 Caltrans vehicles are struck each year. Highway work is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States,” the statement said.
Most recently, Shawn Baker, 50, of Weed, and Joseph “Robert” Jones, 40, of Montague, were killed while working on a rock-scaling operation to stabilize a hillside near Yreka in Northern California, according to the Caltrans statement. “Their deaths ended a two-year stretch without a highway maintenance worker fatality.”
The tally of fallen Caltrans workers does not include contractors killed in the course of their work while working on Caltrans projects.
The total number of road workers, both Caltrans-employed and contractors, exceeds 200, officials said.
Connor McDermott Penhall, 21, of Corona was killed by a drunken driver while working on a construction project on the 10 Freeway near Francisquito Avenue in Baldwin Park. The driver has since been sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
PHOTOS courtesy of Caltrans