Fatal crash demonstrates dangers of construction zones

A July 19, 2013 fatal accident on Highway 75 in Cass County, Nebraska highlights just how dangerous highway construction zones can be. During road construction season, all drivers need to be more aware of the hazards that can be posed by stopped traffic and unexpected traffic patterns.

In the Nebraska accident, a 13-year old resident of Beaver Lake was killed when a tractor trailer struck a line of stopped traffic from behind. Nathan Houfek was a passenger in a Ford Fusion that was the second car struck at highway speed by the semi truck. That same truck first struck and pushed aside a Buick Park Avenue driven by Phyllis Durand of Plattsmouth, Nebraska, and sent Ms. Durand’s car hurtling into the east ditch. Ms. Durand was also injured in the crash, as was Nathan’s mother Kelley and another child in the Houfek vehicle.

The truck had so much momentum that after striking both the Durand and Houfek vehicles, the truck continued on to collide with a third vehicle, a Mazda van driven by Joleen Rose, which was sent off into the west ditch. The cars were so crumpled that three Jaws of Life had to be employed to extract the victims.

The potential causes of a horrific crash like this are many. The truck driver was undoubtedly speeding, given the force of the impact, and certainly was not attentive to the line of stopped traffic ahead of him. However, it will also be important to thoroughly examine the construction zone for proper signage, roadway design, and for proper site distance. It will be interesting to see if the construction zone was set up properly, to give all drivers (including the truck driver) a chance to do the right thing.

All drivers, and especially truck drivers, need to approach any imminent construction zone with a higher degree of attention and care. Construction zones can present all kinds of hazards that one doesn’t normally expect to find in a highway – stopped traffic, unexpected lane shifts, challenging lines of sight, and travel lanes being put out of service, just to name a few. Giving just a bit of extra time and care can go a long way to preventing tragedies like this one.

The Lietz Law Firm has previously handled cases involving rear end collisions in construction zones. These cases can become very complicated, and can involve multiple experts, to examine all of the various potential causes.

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