Harsher penalties called for after young flagger's death

0 362 Infrastructure

by Richard Gilbert

A manager with a Saskatoon-based paving contractor wants the provincial government to find a way to stop drivers from breaking the law in highway construction zones, after a flagger employed by the company was killed last week.

A manager with a Saskatoon-based paving contractor wants the provincial government to find a way to stop drivers from breaking the law in highway construction zones, after a flagger employed by the company was killed last week.

“We would like to see stricter penalties in construction zones and the public to obey the signs,” said Josh Safronetz, operations manager with HJR Asphalt.

“We want the government or the industry to implement new measures, such as photo radar and stricter enforcement.”

According to RCMP media relations officer Sgt. Paul Dawson, traffic control person Ashley Dawn Richards, 18, was killed on Highway 39 about eight kilometres north of Midale, Saskatchewan at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 24.

Richards was pregnant and on her first day on the job with a road construction crew at the time of her death.

She worked for HJR Asphalt.

“The deceased was working in the construction zone when a SUV, being driven by an adult male, approached her position traveling in a north bound direction,” he said.

“The collision occurred when the deceased was struck by the SUV in the construction zone.”

Weyburn RCMP, local emergency services and fire crews responded to a 911 call from the scene of the incident.

Richards was taken by ambulance to hospital in Weyburn, where she was pronounced dead upon arrival.

She had recently moved to Saskatchewan from Lakeside, N.B., to live with her fiancé Ben Diprose and start a family.

Diprose, who worked on the same crew, held Richards in his arms as she died.

“The driver of the SUV, a 44 year old male, was arrested at the scene and taken into custody,” said the officer.

“He was released from custody on Aug. 25. Formal charges have not been laid at this point, but they are pending. We are waiting for a report from traffic reconstruction.”

The fatality is being investigated by an RCMP traffic reconstructionist, the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, and the coroner’s office.

Safronetz said people are still speeding in the highway construction zone, where Richards was killed.

“It’s still occurring,” said Safronetz.

“People are still not paying attention to signs or slowing down. They are missing the signs because they are passing in the construction zone.”

HJR Asphalt workers at the Highway 39 site were writing down the license plates of vehicles which try to pass the lineups waiting for the flag person’s directions.

The plates were reported to the RCMP.

“It’s not as simple as taking down the license plate number and giving out a ticket,” said Dawson.

“We have to undertake an investigation first and verify the plate to determine who the driver was. If charges are warranted, we will lay a charge, but it takes time for a proper investigation.”

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is upset that drivers continue to break the law in the aftermath of the young worker’s death.

“Angry to learn from owner of constr co. where Ashley worked that drivers are still not obeying orange zone laws,” said Wall, in a series of tweets about the incident on Aug. 30.

“Have asked Hwys and Justice Ministers to work with police, stakeholders to canvass any and all ideas to improve orange zone safety.”

Wall has asked these provincial ministries to look closely at all the options available for increasing safety in construction zones, including stiffer penalties and photo radar.

“First and foremost, we want to extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the young woman who died so tragically,” said Don McMorris minister of Highways and Infrastructure.

“This kind of accident should never happen. All it takes is for drivers to obey the law and slow down – especially in construction zones.”

In Saskatchewan, motorists are required to slow to 60 kilometres per hour in the “orange zone” when passing highway workers and equipment.

Penalties for speeders start with a $140 fine with $2 added for every kilometre per hour over the limit.

For motorists driving faster than 90 km/h, the fine rises to $140 plus four dollars per excess kilometre.

Police could also hand out tickets for driving without due care or reasonable attention, which results in 4 demerit points and a $240 fine.

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