The constant presence of road crews, traffic cones, and orange barrels on Ohio highways, byways, and township roads is a way of life for Ohio drivers. With the rise in distracted driving in recent years, those roadside crews have never been more vulnerable to serious injuries.
In the wee morning hours of Aug. 28, 2019, a line crew from Lancaster-based South Central Power Company was called to address a power hazard along State Route 73 near Hillsboro. An Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper guarded the zone while the crew established a new traffic path for drivers, setting cones and putting caution lights in place. As the linemen were about to begin work, the trooper confirmed that the work site met construction zone safety standards and headed out.
An instant later, an alcohol-impaired driver careened through the work zone, crashing into the crew’s massive digger truck. Under the impact, the truck slid, striking lineman Al Sears and sending him airborne. Sears, a 26-year veteran of South Central Power’s line crew, landed nearly 40 feet away on the gravel berm. He lay quiet and still. Stunned, the crew rushed to his side, performing first aid as they waited for the 911 team to arrive.
It was a horrifying situation, the kind of thing that line crews and their families worry about most. Earlier that year, a crew from another company was working along a Hillsboro road when a driver plowed through their work zone, killing one lineman and injuring two others. “To have two line crews struck by drivers within one year was just incomprehensible for us,” says Buzz Detty, South Central Power’s safety and compliance manager. “It was a real eye-opener for us.”
For electric co-ops in Ohio and everywhere, distracted drivers are a leading cause of downed power lines, broken poles, and electric outages. Worse yet, they place lineworkers in danger.
Sears was fortunate. He was transported to the hospital, where X-rays showed only minor injuries, and he returned home later that evening. “I learned a big lesson,” he says. “Never take your eyes off the traffic when working in the road right-of-way. Complacency can be a killer.”