Eye on KELOLAND: The space between work and tragedy


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — No matter the time of year, if you go for a drive you’ll likely notice construction crews or state employees at work along the side of the road. While it’s your job as a driver to be aware of your surroundings, not everyone is paying attention.

Watch how close the cars come to these workers on this stretch of Interstate 29 between 12th Street and 26th Street in western Sioux Falls. Travis Dressen, Sioux Falls area engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation, says this is the most traveled part of the state’s interstate system.

“I think our goal is for everybody to go home safe at night, and that’s the workers, that’s people traveling through these work zones, we want everybody to make it home safe to their families,” Dressen said. “I don’t think people realize sometimes how tight construction zones are, work zones are, that the slightest mistake can cost somebody their life.”

It’s a point driven home by just how little space there is here.

“It’s much different perspective standing out here on the road seeing traffic go by as it is sitting behind a steering wheel passing through a work zone, it’s very different once you’re out here working,” Dressen said.

Shannon Orth, senior trooper with the South Dakota Highway Patrol, knows how it feels when cars come too close. Way too close.

“I’ve been inside the patrol vehicle twice when it was hit at over 70 miles an hour,” Orth said.

Both times it happened on the interstate when Orth was working traffic control. And these incidents have had significant consequences.

“I do have bad discs in my neck, bad discs in my back, torn cartilage,” Orth said. “The second crash did a lot of that, and I also possibly may have to have a hip replaced because it did ruin my hip socket so bad that it could have to be replaced down the road.”

The two crashes actually happened close to 12th Street on Interstate 29, in the same area where crews were working on Tuesday.

“You see all the other close calls that we have that DOT workers have, the snowplow operators, the tow truck drivers, just a matter of time for that inattentive driver not to be paying attention and bad things happen quick,” Orth said.

“Last winter, I had a semi driver that was not paying attention and by the time he swerved, he, I broke off the back mirror of his truck by him hitting my plow truck,” Mike McDermott said.

McDermott does highway maintenance for the South Dakota DOT. He says drivers need to look forward instead of down.

“They need to start looking ahead of them, not down at their phones, and not fiddling with the radio, they need to pay attention to where they’re going, and they need to learn to slow down and move over and give us a break because we’re trying to do our job to make their drive safe and efficient,” McDermott said.

“They’re driving the vehicle, worry about driving, that’s your one job is to drive that vehicle safely, to be looking way down the road, as far as you can see,” Orth said. “So when there are hazards and stuff, they can plan, have time to plan to merge over and to use those turn signals.”

It’s also your job to pay attention when you’re behind the wheel.

“We’ve had a lot of close calls working on the interstate systems, mostly because of distracted driving, people are on their cell phones,” McDermott said.

“There’s just so many people unattentive when they’re driving, and they don’t realize the dangers,” Orth said.

When driving anywhere, it’s easy to focus on your destination- and how much time you do or don’t have to get there. But at the end of the day, everyone wants to end up at the same place.

“We all have families that we want to get home to and just like everybody else, they’re trying to get home,” McDermott said. “Well we want to go home at the end of the day, and we’re not going to do that if we end up going over somebody’s car hood.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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