MERCER COUNTY Officials unveil memorial honoring PennDOT workers
One Mercer County maintenance worker was killed along Interstate 80 in 1997.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
MERCER, Pa. -- The rows of small white crosses on the green lawn take on the sobering look of a military cemetery.
It wasn't soldiers killed in the line of duty that the crosses represent but the 75 employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation killed since 1970 while working on the state's highways.
Each cross bears the name and date of the worker killed and the memorial, which will visit each of the state's 67 counties, was unveiled Monday at the PennDOT maintenance garage at Maple and North streets. It will remain here until April 19 and then go to Erie County.
It brought back strong memories for Pat Murray of Sharpsville, a PennDOT equipment operator with 20 years of service, who had his own close encounter while working along state Route 358 in Perry Township.
Murray said he was working in a bucket truck, suspended about 14 feet off the ground trimming trees along the road.
The road was supposed to be closed to traffic, he said, noting he was facing away from the oncoming traffic lane when a tractor-trailer ran beneath him, hitting the bottom of his bucket.
"I was bouncing on the trailer [roof] as he went underneath," Murray recalled, adding that had the bucket been lower, he probably would have been killed.
The trucker was stopped by authorities about a mile away and said he never noticed the bucket truck, Murray said.
Fatality: One Mercer County PennDOT worker wasn't so fortunate.
Dennis P. Miller, 40, an equipment operator, was knocked down and run over by a state dump truck at a work site on Interstate 80 in Wolf Creek Township in October 1997. His name is on one of the crosses.
Police have a range of tools to enforce speed limit and other restrictions in work areas, said Lt. Francis Grolemund, commander of the Pennsylvania State Police station at Mercer.
In addition to radar in cars, there is Operation Yellow Jacket, which puts troopers with radar in regular PennDOT vehicles to monitor traffic. There's also portable radar that lets a trooper stand away from the road and clock passing vehicles, and there always is aerial enforcement with helicopters and airplanes, he added.
Operation Centipede, a series of radar traps set up a short distance apart, can nab speeders who think they've beaten the first trap, and there's also a program used to target aggressive drivers by using troopers in civilian clothing in unmarked cars, Grolemund said.
The state Legislature is taking steps to deal with the safety issue, said Rep. Rod Wilt of Greenville, R-17th, noting that the House Transportation Committee is considering legislation requiring vehicles more than 20,000 pounds to comply with additional speed reductions. The package also would allow work crews to put warning signs further away from the job than is now allowed, Wilt said.