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News / Business / Clark County Business

‘If it sounds like we’re angry … we’re angry’: WSDOT leaders push back after road workers injured in I-5 crash

WSDOT urges drivers to slow down, be vigilant after Sunday crash on I-5 leaves 6 employees injured

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: January 24, 2024, 6:05am
8 Photos
The scene of a Sunday night crash in which a Chevrolet Impala, driven by a suspected drunk driver, rear-ended a Washington State Department of Transportation truck, pushing it into another truck on the shoulder of Interstate 5 near Milepost 8. Seven people were taken to area hospitals for injuries.
The scene of a Sunday night crash in which a Chevrolet Impala, driven by a suspected drunk driver, rear-ended a Washington State Department of Transportation truck, pushing it into another truck on the shoulder of Interstate 5 near Milepost 8. Seven people were taken to area hospitals for injuries. (Photo contributed by the Washington State Department of Transportation) Photo Gallery

Road officials were angry Tuesday morning as they reflected on a Sunday night crash that hospitalized six Washington State Department of Transportation workers who were attempting to fix potholes on Interstate 5 north just past where it merges with Interstate 205.

As maintenance crews continue to work in full force to repair roads damaged by snow and ice storms last week, officials are urging drivers to pay attention and ensure everyone makes it home safely. This is not the first time officials have sounded the alarm over work zone safety. WSDOT data shows Sunday’s crash is part of a grim uptick in crashes involving road crews.

Officials said two pickups, carrying three workers each, parked at 9:50 p.m. on the shoulder of I-5 north near Milepost 8 while they waited for lane closures to repair potholes. Within 90 seconds of parking, a suspected drunk driver, traveling about 60 mph, drifted into the shoulder and crashed into the rear of one truck, pushing it into the rear of the other, according to WSDOT Maintenance Supervisor Brad Clark.

The Chevrolet Impala was one of the last cars passing by before crews blocked traffic as a part of a rolling slow-down, Clark said.

“We’ve taken the utmost precautions to try to provide them a safe work environment,” Clark said. “But these are factors that we cannot control.”

The six WSDOT employees and the driver of the Impala, identified by police as Yupada Fontung, 33, were taken to area hospitals. Four of the workers were taken by ambulance and two were driven by supervisors. By Monday afternoon, all the road workers were discharged from hospitals and recovering at home, WSDOT said.

Troopers arrested Fontung, of Portland, on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular assault. She appeared on the allegations Monday in Clark County Superior Court. Court records state that when troopers responded to the crash, some road workers were wrapping another’s head in gauze, and some complained of back pain.

Clark called the incident one of the more serious crashes he’s seen due to the number of people who were injured.

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“That makes it that much more difficult to get a phone call and to hear about six of your crew are now being transported to the hospital,” Clark said. “And you don’t get a lot of details when you get the first phone call. It’s like, ‘This went down. They’re going to the hospital.’ It’s like, OK, wait for further information, and then hope for the best, basically.”

While this crash was particularly scary, Clark said, work zone crashes unfortunately happen fairly regularly.

“We have an incident, maybe once a month, where our crews are struck either taking a lane or on the shoulder or just doing their daily work,” he said.

In 2023, 16 Department of Transportation vehicles were struck in Southwest Washington, according to agency data, which was up from 14 in 2022 and eight in 2021. Nationwide, in 2020, there were 857 fatal crashes in work zones resulting in 774 deaths, WSDOT said, citing data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In Washington, drivers are required to move over when approaching work or emergency zones. If changing lanes is unsafe, drivers are required to slow down to 10 mph below the posted speed limit, except for when it exceeds 60 mph, then they should reduce their speed to no more than 50 mph.

WSDOT frequently partners with the Washington State Patrol, the Towing and Recovery Association of Washington and other agencies to remind people of the law, which was amended in 2023 after two Longview tow truck drivers were killed in 2021.

In April of that year, a DUI driver crashed into a family’s SUV, pushing it into a tow truck while the operator provided assistance to the family on I-5 near Castle Rock. Three people died — the tow truck driver and a Battle Ground couple — and a fourth person was injured.

On Tuesday morning, WSDOT had a message for those who drive through work zones.

“If it sounds like we’re angry … we’re angry,” a WSDOT Facebook post states. “This happens all too often. The people working out on the roads are just that, people. They aren’t just vests and hard hats.”

The two struck pickups sat Tuesday morning in a lot at WSDOT’s shop in downtown Vancouver. The bumpers were smashed, and bags of asphalt were stacked in the backseat of one.

“It’s extremely challenging for us to try to do our work and to have that in the back of our minds that there are people that are basically putting our lives at risk,” Clark said. “And it’s every day, basically, I’m thinking about the crews and making sure everyone comes home at the end of the day.”

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