Effort lead by family of MODOT worker killed by driver results in new license revocation law

The family of a highway worker killed at a job site hopes a law signed this month will keep others from facing the same tragedy.

Lyndon Ebker was killed in an April, 2016 crash while he was working in a MODOT work zone near New Haven. The driver who hit him was allowed to continue driving for more than two and a half years, and Ebker’s family and MODOT workers said that was wrong.

The driver who struck and killed Lyndon Ebker in a work zone near New Haven more than three years ago had impaired vision, but was allowed to keep driving until this past November when his license was revoked for life.  Ebker’s family and the Department of Transportation said that driver put others in danger and he should’ve been forced off the roads more quickly.

House Bill 499 would require the Department of Revenue’s Director to revoke a driver’s license if a law enforcement officer reports that the driver’s negligence contributed to a worker or emergency responder being hit in a work or emergency zone.

Ebker’s daughter, Nicole Herbel, pushed for the legislation, which was signed into law this month by Governor Mike Parson (R).

“I just want people to think about it when they’re seeing the cones or the orange flags, even the trucks, I want this law to make them stop and think, ‘That gentleman was hit and killed because somebody didn’t slow down,’ or even just to remember that they’re humans that are standing there,” said Herbel.  “Awareness really is the biggest thing for us.”

The accident that killed Ebker happened in Representative Aaron Grieshemer’s (R-Washington) district, and he sponsored HB 499.  He said he was concerned with how long the man who killed Ebker was allowed to keep driving while his case moved through the courts.

“I have heard stories from some MODOT employees that worked with Mr. Ebker that feared for their lives because knowing that this gentleman was out there driving still,” said Griesheimer.  “I’d heard another report that he had almost hit somebody else in the City of Hermann, so it was definitely a safety factor involved in this.”

The legislation was a top priority for the Department of Transportation this year, so much so that MODOT Director Patrick McKenna testified for it in a House committee.  He told lawmakers it was needed to help protect the agency’s workers.

“We try to keep our roads primarily open while we’re working on them.  It’s a considerable challenge, but we have to do it safely so we can honestly look at our employees and say the way that we’re structured will guarantee you the ability to go home every single day after shift to your family and friends, every time throughout your entire career,” McKenna told House Communications.  “We have a memorial here just about 100 yards from where I’m sitting right now with the names of not only Lyndon Ebker, but 133 other MODOT employees that through our history have lost their lives providing public service on behalf of Missouri.”

Representative Aaron Griesheimer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

McKenna thanked all those involved in getting HB 499 through the legislative process and into law, including Rep. Griesheimer, Governor Parson, the Ebker family, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, and Justin Alferman, Parson’s legislative director who also filed the legislation when he was a state representative.

Herbel said though her family suffered a tremendous loss, they didn’t back HB 499 out of seeking revenge.  She said they were doing what her father would’ve done.

“If he saw someone doing something that was going to hurt themselves or hurt other people he did not hesitate to speak up, and that’s why this law is so fitting because if he had lived through this accident he would’ve done something to keep people safe.  He would not have just taken the injury and went on.  He would’ve turned around and fought for something to change.”

If a driver’s license is revoked under the new law, the license holder can seek its reinstatement by taking and passing the written and driving portions of the driver’s test, or petitioning for a hearing before a court local to the work zone where the accident occurred.

HB 499’s language is also included in Senate Bill 89, which has also been signed by the governor.  Both bills effect August 28.

Another provision in HB 499 increases the fees licenses offices can charge for state services, such as issuing driver’s licenses and license plates.

Earlier stories:

House proposes tougher license revocation laws for those who hit workers, emergency responders

Family of MODOT worker killed in work zone asks lawmakers to toughen license revocation law

House budget committee considering $301-million bonding proposal for transportation

A plan to use $301-million in bonds to repair 215 of the state’s bridges is now in the hands of the House Budget Committee.

Senator Dave Schatz (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Governor Mike Parson (R) proposed the original idea, which was revised in the Senate to lower the cost of interest on the bonds.  The Senate voted last month 26-7 to send it to the House.

The provisions of Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 would be triggered if the state accepts a federal grant to pay for replacement of the I-70 bridge over the Missouri River at Rocheport.

“I would not be advocating this proposal if it were not for the Rocheport bridge,” said the resolution’s sponsor, Senate President Pro-Tem Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan)“I think that is so critical to our state and to the movement of freight across this state.  That’s how important it is – for us to go down this path of bonding,”

Schatz told the committee that it would be up to the Department of Transportation whether to accept a federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant if it could receive enough in that grant to proceed with the Rocheport bridge project.

The state is asking for a grant of $172-million, but might get less.  Schatz said it would need to receive $50-million or more in order to build that bridge.

The issue some lawmakers expressed with the proposal is that it would require the use of money from the state’s General Revenue fund to pay down the bond debt.  GR money has never been used for transportation, and some lawmakers fear setting the precedent that it can be.

“I understand the immediate need.  I understand the importance of the Rocheport bridge … if that bridge were to fail that’s a national problem, but I think about what happens in this body 10, 20, 30 years from now,” said Kansas City representative Greg Razer (D).  “The last thing I want to see is for us to set a precedent where in future General Assemblies the people sitting in our seats right now decide which roads get built, when they get built … a member’s political weight in this building should not be deciding which roads get built and when.”

Representative Greg Razer (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Schatz told Razer he agrees and he would prefer to increase the state’s gas tax, but he recalled that three previous transportation funding proposals have failed either before Missouri voters or in the legislature.

“I believe it’s critical for us to do something … not long term, I agree, [this] is not the right way to do this, but right now we have something before us that is critical in nature,” said Schatz.  “Four to six, or eight hour traffic delays on I-70 is unacceptable.”

Razer said in some way the legislature must find a long-term solution for transportation funding so the Department can make long-term plans and quit going deeper in debt for maintenance and upgrades.  In the meantime, he said he has a tough decision to make about SCR 14.

“I’m in a position now of what I consider two bad votes.   I vote, ‘Yes,’ and I’m voting to put us more into debt and opening up Pandora’s Box of GR.  I vote, ‘No,’ and we have eight hour backups on I-70.  That’s the position I’m in,” said Razer.

The committee has not voted on SCR 14.