Maryland highway agency cited for ‘serious violation’ connected to crash that killed 6 highway workers

Traffic control signs to warn drivers and protect workers were not posted near a work zone where six highway workers were killed along Interstate 695 in Baltimore County, Maryland, in March.

Maryland’s Occupational Safety and Health Office cited the State Highway Administration with a “serious violation,” which, according to the report, is a violation “where there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result.”

The report, issued Sept. 21, also stated that the failure to place the signs near the work zone near Woodlawn left the work crew there exposed to “struck-by hazards.”

There are no penalties associated with the citation.

In response to WTOP’s request for comment, Maryland’s State Highway Administration sent the following response: “Safety is our top priority. The citation issued was related to optional signs alerting drivers to potential construction vehicles entering the roadway. The crash did not involve a construction vehicle, and the signs would not have prevented the crash from occurring. The State Highway Administration has no plan to appeal or contest the citation.”

Gene Simmers, a former Maryland State Highway engineer who retired from the agency in 2011, said he was stunned by the finding.

“To have no signing? I mean, that is ridiculous,” he said. “It really is.”

Simmers was also critical of the configuration of the work zone along the section of I-695 near Woodlawn.

“It’s just an absurd premise that you can have construction vehicles going in and out off of a beltway making left turns into a median break,” Simmers said.

According to Simmers, best practices at a site like the one where the crash happened is to have a “snow train” set up.

“What you do is you get one of those big SHA (State Highway Administration) dump trucks, with that big-impact attenuator on the back” to set up along with an arrow board warning motorists to stay to the right as they approach the work zone, Simmers said.

Having no signing warning drivers of the work zone, “just defies common sense,” Simmers said.

Six people, including two brothers and a father and son, were among those killed in the crash March 22. The victims were Rolando Ruiz, 46, of Laurel, Sybil Lee Dimaggio, 46, of Glen Burnie, Carlos Orlando Villatoro Escobar, 43, of Frederick, his brother Jose Armando Escobar, 52, also of Frederick, Mahlon Simmons II, 52, of Union Bridge and his son, Mahlon Simmons III, 31.

Two drivers, who police said were speeding along the stretch of I-695 approaching the work zone collided, before one of the cars, driven by 54-year-old Lisa Lea of Randallstown, entered the work zone and struck the six members of the highway crew inside the work zone.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report in the crash and found that the drivers of both cars were reportedly speeding before colliding. The posted speed in the area was 55 mph.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, a  former state transportation engineer, released a statement reading: “The tragic crash on I-695 in March made clear that the number of work zone crashes and fatalities in the state of Maryland is an unacceptable reality. That’s why, just months after taking office, our administration formed the Work Zone Safety Work Group. We are proud of the collaborative work of group members, including those from both Maryland State Highway Administration and the Department of Labor, and we look forward to releasing our comprehensive recommendations next month, which include new technologies to increase driver awareness in work zones.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the retired Maryland State Highway Administration engineer quoted in the story. His name is Gene Simmers. The story has been corrected. 

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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