HOBART, IN— Barring the addition of a buffer zone, E&B Paving contractors are refusing to return to a construction site along Interstate 65 where a 35-year-old LaPorte worker died Wednesday, a union spokesman said this week.
“If you drove down that stretch of road over the last couple of weeks, there were workers performing less than 12 inches away from traffic,” said Ed Maher, a spokesman for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150.
The death of Brandon Beau Dewayne Fiscus, with the Anderson-based E&B Paving, is being investigated by the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Fiscus was killed at the construction site Wednesday after police say a woman lost control of her SUV and struck him as he worked along I-65 just one mile south of the Ridge Road exit.
Maher added workers have agreed to patch up existing holes, but only at night, when an additional lane closure can be granted. They want main line work delayed until the spring, he said.
INDOT spokesman Matthew Deitchley said Thursday the state agency was not aware of any workers refusing to return to the job site, but that INDOT and the contractor mutually decided to halt work through this weekend “out of respect for the worker and those on the job site who experienced this tragedy.”
“There are 28 remaining days of work planned for this year, with most of that work at night, per the original schedule. Ramps and main line work is all part of that plan,” he said.
Construction in the area of the crash has been ongoing since May. The right and outer shoulder are marked off with construction barrels, and there are many informational signs warning drivers of the construction area.
Police said Jasmine Tirado, 23, of Merrillville, was driving north on I-65 when she changed lanes several times before hitting a construction barrel separating the construction area from traffic on northbound I-65. After hitting the barrel, Tirado continued into a construction area where Fiscus was using a concrete saw, police said. She is accused of hitting another barrel and striking Fiscus, throwing him into her windshield.
Barrels vs. barriers
Maher said safety concerns about the use of plastic construction barrel drums, rather than concrete barriers, were raised to the Indiana Department of Transportation prior to the worker’s death. However, Deitchley said INDOT did not field any complaints about better worker protections on the job site, noting the responsibility of safety equipment lies with the contractor.
A spokesman for E&B Paving could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.
“INDOT oversees and ensures the work zone meets safety requirements for the traveling public, but the safety of contractor workers and any decisions about work zone safety equipment for workers is ultimately the decision of the contractor,” Deitchley said.
While concrete barriers may increase worker safety, the closure of additional lanes to accommodate the barriers could create massive backups and increase accidents for all involved, he said.
“It must be stressed that this tragic accident happened miles into the work zone, which met all safety requirements, not at the beginning or end of the zone where traffic begins to taper,” Deitchley said. “This driver, who was seen weaving in and out of traffic, cut into the middle of a work zone recklessly before striking the worker.”
He added state policy dictates when and how many lanes can be closed in this section of I-65 during certain hours, he said. Upwards of 100,000 vehicles travel this section of I-65 every day.
“Closing an additional lane of traffic on I-65 during the day, in addition to what was already closed due to construction, would violate this policy. Therefore INDOT and the contractor included as much nighttime work as possible, so an additional lane could be closed for safety,” he said.
Maher said worker safety should be of utmost importance on such a busy highway.
“These are just people doing their jobs. Any of us, at the end of our work day, get to go home to our families, and unfortunately in construction, it’s a much more dangerous job so measures have to be taken,” he said.
‘Safety is paramount’
The hope is to have INDOT install concrete barriers in the spring, Maher said.
INDOT recently notified project managers, engineers and contractors of adjustments to change orders regarding safety, according to a letter dated Oct. 13 and obtained by The Times. It states “by identifying these improvements through change order, the costs to these improvements can be tracked and therefore not counted against the on budget metrics.”
“Safety is paramount on all construction projects and should not influence decisions based on meeting any metric concerning budget,” the letter states.
Deitchley said the state memorandum has “been in the works” for two or three months and its release Thursday had nothing to do with the recent fatality.
“This was a terrible tragedy, where a young man lost his life and every one of us is shocked and saddened. INDOT will continue to work, along with our contractors to make work zones as safe as possible,” he said. “But it cannot be ignored that drivers must slow down and pay attention, especially in work zones. One poor decision by a driver can shatter the lives of so many, no matter how many safety measures are in place.”
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who chairs the House Roads and Transportation Committee, said there’s no single solution to protect workers at construction sites. Soliday last year unsuccessfully pushed legislation authorizing cameras to enforce speed limits in work zones.
“Let’s be honest. That driver should have not crossed those barrels. The behavior of drivers out there, because I’ve witnessed it, is becoming almost unconscionable,” he said.
============ Construction worker killed in I-65 crash
Sarah Reese email@example.com, (219) 933-3351
Updated Oct 15, 2016
HOBART, IN — A construction worker was killed Wednesday after a woman lost control of her SUV and struck him as he worked along Interstate 65, police said.
Brandon Beau Dewayne Fiscus, 35, of LaPorte, was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. He was working for E & B Paving, of Anderson, Indiana.
The impact of the crash about 9:35 a.m. threw Fiscus more than 100 feet, and he was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Indiana State Police.
Police said Jasmine Tirado, 23, of Merrillville, was driving a 2013 GMC SUV north on I-65, about one mile south of the Ridge Road exit, when she changed lanes several times. She moved from the left lane to the middle lane, behind a semi, and finally to the right lane before hitting a construction barrel separating the construction area from traffic on northbound I-65.
After hitting the barrel, Tirado continued into a construction area where Fiscus was using a concrete saw on a caddy, police said. She hit another barrel and struck Fiscus, throwing him into her windshield.
Fiscus then hit a company-owned 2016 Ford F-250 pickup truck directly behind him and came to rest about 100 feet in front of the pickup, police said.
Fiscus was pronounced dead from massive blunt force trauma by Lake County coroner’s investigators, police said.
Construction in the area of the crash has been ongoing since May. The right and outer shoulder are marked off with construction barrels, and there are many informational signs warning drivers of the construction area, police said.
The crash remains under investigation, said Doug Moats, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation. The department is saddened by the death, he said.
All northbound lanes of I-65 were closed for an investigation and cleanup. All lanes were reopened about 12:45 a.m., police said.