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than three years ago had impaired vision, but was allowed to keep driving until this past November when his license was revoked for life.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

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

More than two-and-a-half years after Lyndon Ebker was struck and killed while working on a MoDOT Road Crew, the man that struck him was still driving.  Ebker’s family, the Department of Transportation, and Representative Aaron Griesheimer (R-Washington) say that’s not right, and they’re asking the legislature to change state law because of it.

MoDOT employee Lyndon Ebker of New Haven was killed in an April 2016 accident in a work zone outside his hometown. His death prompted the filing of House Bill 499. (photo courtesy of the Ebker family)

“When I say we lost a good man, I mean we lost a good man,” Ebker’s daughter, Nicole Herbel, told the House Transportation Committee.  “A man who cared for others and always put others in front of himself.  If you would’ve been able to ask him why he would’ve told you just what he told me:  ‘I do what needs to be done,’ Let’s do what needs to be done and fix this process together.”

The man who struck Ebker was later revealed to have macular degeneration.  Even so, neither his physician, family, nor law enforcement investigating the crash reported him as an unsafe driver, to require that he take driver testing.

The committee is considering House Bill 499, which would allow a driver’s license to be revoked if that driver hits a highway worker or an emergency responder while in a properly marked work or emergency zone.  The license would be revoked upon notification by law enforcement to the Department of Revenue.

“The purpose of this bill is to, obviously, protect our highway workers,” said Griesheimer, the bill’s sponsor.  “We have a need out there.”

Backers say the bill would make sure whether drivers who have been involved in work zone accidents are competent to be on the roads.  A driver whose license has been revoked could seek reinstatement by taking and passing the written and driving parts of the driver’s license exam, or petitioning for a court hearing.

Since 2000, work zone incidents have claimed the lives of 13 employees of Director Patrick McKenna’s Department of Transportation.  He told the committee, “Justice was not operating quickly,” in the case that left Ebker dead.

Lyndon Ebker’s daughter, Nicole Herdell, recounted for lawmakers the work zone incident that killed her father in 2016 and asked them to pass House Bill 499. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“This is a substantial problem for us.  In these cases – we are talking about at-fault crashes, not accidents.  That is a distinction, and that is a distinction that there is due process to determine.  We’re not looking to remove anybody’s rights.  We’re simply trying to be able to operate and maintain the system with safety,” said McKenna.

State Maintenance Engineer Becky Almeroth told the committee other workers in the region where Ebker was killed felt unsafe after the accident because the driver who hit him was still on the road.

“For the last 2.5 years those coworkers in this very tight-knit community had to live with the fact that they would get texts on an almost weekly basis, several times a week, letting them know that this driver was out driving at the time.  So their minds at the time, they’re not going to put a work zone in that area because they know the routes that he usually takes.  There are many times that these workers saw him in the convenience store, saw him in the grocery store, and they know this is somebody that could potentially put others in harm’s way,” said Almeroth.

Griesheimer said he is considering amending the bill to say that drivers could also have their licenses revoked for hitting utility workers in work zones.  One lawmaker suggested extending the language to cover hitting anyone in a work zone.

The committee has not yet voted on his bill.

Task Force begins work toward finding a solution for Missouri transportation funding

A legislature-created task force has held its first hearing toward the goal of finding a long-term solution for Missouri’s need for transportation funding.

Representative Kevin Corlew (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force was created by the adoption of HCR 47, offered by Kansas City Republican Kevin Corlew.  He chairs the Task Force.

“Our roads are crumbling and our constituents are grumbling.  There seems to be a consensus that we need to do something but as of yet there’s been no consensus about what needs to be done,” said Corlew.  “That’s what this task force is about – determining if we have a need and then finding a solution with broad-based support.”

The task force heard a presentation from the Director of the Department of Transportation Patrick McKenna in which he outlined the funding issue facing the state’s transportation system.

“Nearly $55-billion of taxpayer dollars have gone into developing the really extraordinary system that we benefit from today – 34-thousand miles of road and 10,400 bridges that the state owns.  It’s the seventh largest system in the nation and it’s funded at 47th in the nation in terms of revenue per mile,” said McKenna.

McKenna also reiterated what many lawmakers already know about Missouri’s bridges – many are in need of repair.  He said about 1,300 have restrictions on how much weight can be on them because of their condition.  866 more bridges are considered to be in “poor condition.”

“We also have 207 ‘major bridges’ in this state … we define those as greater than 1,000 feet in length … In the next 10-years, with our asset management plan, we know we have to replace or repair 62 of those by age and condition, and we’re funded at about 1.2 a year,” said McKenna.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Task force members and those who testified, not including McKenna, shared the opinions that have framed the transportation funding debate in recent years.  Some spoke for or against increasing Missouri’s motor fuel taxes.  Others spoke about other possible solutions such as different ways of utilizing the tax money the Transportation Department already receives.  Still others commented on the possibility of public-private partnerships and tolling.

Ron Leone, the executive director for the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, told the committee he didn’t expect it to come up with any new possible solutions beyond those that have been debated before.

“I kinda have a feeling that even though you’re going to be going down this path for the next six, seven months, you’re ultimately going to have just a certain number of tools in your toolbox.  I don’t think you’re going to uncover any silver bullets that no one has thought of to date,” said Leone.

Corlew is more optimistic that the task force could come up with some new possible approaches or combinations of approaches

“I think that every day as technology increases and as people really put their minds together and think creatively that there’s innovation coming out.  We’re seeing it throughout the country, new ways of funding things.  I don’t have a hidden gem right now, but that’s the purpose of this task force – is to get input from the public, to get input from other states, and find out, are there new mechanisms?”  said Corlew.  “I’m not at a place where I’d say we won’t uncover anything new.”

Corlew said one reason he proposed this task force was because the legislature wasn’t making much progress towards a transportation funding solution in recent sessions.

“It’s very important that we take this seriously,” said Corlew.  “The reason why this task force was made up with the people that it is – that is legislators, the governor, the MODOT director, and with private citizens – is that it can be something that not only do we come out with proposals to talk about, but proposals that we as a legislature and the governor’s office can act upon.”

Corlew intends for the task force to have proposals ready for consideration by the legislature in its 2018 regular session.  It will hold more sessions throughout the state in the next few months.