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Families stress safety during National Work Zone Awareness Week

Teresa Keen, whose husband was killed in 2012, lists the names of those killed in work zones over the years. (WTOP/Max Smith)

WASHINGTON — Teresa Keen’s husband Carlos Keen went to work one day in 2012 — as he had for 29 years — but on that day, he would never come home. A dump truck driver slammed into him as he worked on a Virginia road project. Now, to mark national work zone awareness week, Teresa and others who have lost family members in crashes are making a tearful appeal to drivers to be more careful and focused on the road.

“It was by nothing that he had done wrong,” Teresa Keen says.

Carlos Keen was operating a backhoe on Route 460 in Buchanan County when he was struck and killed.

“I would like to ask everybody to pay attention, and watch these workers on that road, because they’re just doing their jobs. They have a family at home that miss them and want to see them come home,” she says as her eyes well up and her voice cracks.

“Our lives will never be the same because of that one mistake. That [driver] had to be in a hurry to go somewhere,” Keen says.

She asks all drivers to put down cell phones, stay completely focused on the road, and to consider all of the people who otherwise may not be able to go home to their families -– both highway workers and people in cars.

It is a message shared by local and national leaders and other family members of victims at the kickoff of National Work Zone Awareness Week in Arlington on Tuesday.

Valerie Shepherd came all the way from Charlotte, North Carolina, for the event. She wanted to make sure that her only son, Kenterrious “KC” Christian, is not forgotten.

He was 27 and working for VDOT when a gas tanker truck slammed into his construction vehicle on Interstate 81 and exploded on Oct. 2, 2013 in Smyth County, Va.

“Take it serious when you drive through the work zones, because everyone’s life depends on it. The driver. The worker,” she says.

In addition to Christian, his coworker for the contractor Roadmark Corporation, 30-year-old Trevor Blankenship, and the driver of the truck, Frank Skeens, were also killed.

“I would ask everyone to take that into consideration, because you don’t just impact the worker. You impact families for life,” Shepherd says.

“That’s just what I deal with on a daily basis … knowing that my child will never come home. But all he was trying to do was make a life for himself,” she says.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration policy advisor Earl Hardy says more than 32,000 people died in crashes in 2013, including 579 in work zones.

“Bottom line is most of these crashes are preventable, and if they’re preventable, we need to elevate our efforts to reduce those crashes,” he says.

Twenty-one of those deaths were in Virginia, and 10 were in Maryland. Dozens more people were hurt in 2013, the last full year with data available.

Preliminary 2014 data from VDOT shows 4,098 crashes in work zones led to 1,857 injuries and 15 deaths.

Virginia State Police have stepped up enforcement and awareness efforts to protect tow truck drivers, troopers and others after a tow truck driver was killed in December, and three troopers were hit on the side of the road in winter snow storms.

Virginia State Police Fairfax Division Commander Capt. James De Ford Sr. says it ultimately comes down to drivers paying attention and “staying alive rather than staying in touch, slowing down and simply being on your best behavior when driving”.

“So many lives are at risk when a driver fails to follow the rules of the road while in a highway work zone, from the workers and construction crews who are working to improve our highways, to our law enforcement who are stationed within them, to the motorists and passengers travelling through them. With spring officially here, and the summer travel and tourist season just beyond that, we’ll see a lot more of these work zones operating,” he says.

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