VDOT worker reflects on work zone crash during national awareness week

NORFOLK, Va. - This week is National Work Zone Awareness Week and a VDOT worker who survived a work zone crash earlier this year is pleading with drivers to pay attention.

Jimmie Harris was part of a crew patching potholes along Route 58 in Southampton County on January 31st. While the crew was working in the established work zone, a tractor-trailer ran through, hitting one VDOT safety truck, slamming it into the truck Harris was sitting in at that moment.

"All of a sudden I heard this tremendous sound like a freight train coming, and I could see stuff flying by our truck: diesel fuel, steam, battery pieces, all kind of debris, fenders from the truck," Harris told News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.

His co-worker and friend Hank, another VDOT worker, was inside the first truck that was hit by the tractor-trailer and was in bad shape.

Harris remembers running over to the overturned truck and shouting out to him.

"'Hank, Hank are you okay?' And he’s mumbling something I can hear him it’s like his teeth are clenched. The seatbelt has him around his neck some kind of way," he recalls.

Hank is still recovering from the crash and has not returned to work. Harris, who suffered minor injuries, is urging drivers to pay attention on the roads.

"This truck is not out here just to make you get over. It says 'right lane closed,' you know the lights are flashing, the arrows are telling you to get left, please pay attention to that. That’s all we got. What else can we do?"

"I’m hoping people will put down their phones. You know whatever distractions," he continued.

There were 2,666 work zone crashes in 2017 that resulted in 1,329 injuries and 12 fatalities in Virginia, and increase over 2016.

VDOT offers the following tips for safely navigating highway work zones:

  • Expect the unexpected. Keep an eye out for workers and slow-moving equipment.
  • Follow the signs. Signs and flaggers will direct you through work zones. Expect changes in traffic patterns as the project progresses.
  • Don’t tailgate. Unexpected stops frequently occur in work zones.
  • Don’t speed. Enhanced fines of up to $500 may be levied for speeding in a work zone.
  • Never change lanes in a work zone.
  • Focus and minimize distractions. Focus your full attention on the road and those traveling around you. Avoid changing radio stations, eating or using phones.
  • Be patient. Crews are working to improve the safety and comfort of your travels.
  • Know before you go. Call 511 for up-to-the-minute traffic and weather information from any phone in Virginia. Before you travel, log on to 511Virginia or check the free 511 Virginia mobile app for road and traffic conditions, weather forecasts and live traffic cameras on many major highways.