Deadly Accident Highlights Dangers For Road Crews

Friday, March 16th 2007, 5:00 pm
By: News On 6

We're learning more about the driver of a car that caused a fatal accident on the Broken Arrow Expressway. The Highway Patrol says Paula Welch smashed into the back of an ODOT truck where Joshua McCance was sitting, filling potholes on the highway. Troopers say they searched her car and found marijuana and a bottle of Xanax with the label peeled off. It will be months before blood tests tell if Welch had any drugs in her system. Welch was booked for manslaughter, possession of marijuana and illegal prescription drugs.

Other road repair crews say they weren't surprised to hear about the accident. News On 6 anchor Terry Hood reports the crews are surprised accidents like this don't happen more often.

"As dangerous as it is, I'm surprised there's not more," said Jerry Yoakum with the City of Tulsa Public Works Department.

Jerry Yoakum and his crew have hundreds of potholes to fill, which means hundreds of potentially dangerous situations.

"They see the flashing lights, but they just don't pay attention to them," he said.

Road crews say Tulsa drivers have become accustomed to the orange barrels and flashing lights that come with construction and repair work. They say that's part of the problem, since roadside workers don't seem out of the ordinary.

"It's an extremely dangerous job when you go to slinging cars by people," said Floyd Emery with the City of Tulsa Public Works Department.

Emery says slinging hot asphalt isn't the hardest part of his job, it's dodging distracted drivers.

"If you stand out here like we do, you see people talking on the phone, petting the dog, reading a book, reading a map, writing notes," he said.

Emery says he's had more close calls than he'd like to count, and some that have left marks that remind him of how dangerous his work is. He says drivers sideswipe the mirrors off his trucks all the time.

"That's getting awful close when it comes to knocking the mirror off your vehicle," Emery said.

But Emery admits his crew's margin for error is much wider than highway crews can afford.

"Cars here are doing 35 to 45, out there, they're doing 50 to 80," he said.

The district attorney will decide if the driver in Thursday’s accident will face negligent homicide charges.