Police cite paving company’s lack of safety precautions as factor in man’s death

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 30, 2013, at 4:49 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — A lack of safety precautions taken by a Bangor paving company contributed to one of its workers being struck and killed by a passing vehicle on a busy roadway earlier this year, according to police.

Richard E. Thibodeau Jr., 56, of Millinocket and Carmel died after he was struck by a Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Keri-Jon Wilson, 25, of Orono on Forest Avenue on May 7.

Thibodeau was part of a crew from Harvey’s Paving and Sealcoating that was finishing a paving project at Faith Baptist Church at 161 Forest Ave. around 7 p.m. when he was fatally struck. Workers and equipment involved with the church project were in or near the roadway, according to a police report detailing the investigation.

The incident is being investigated by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, an OSHA official confirmed Thursday. Under OSHA regulations, workers must be provided with protection from hazards posed by moving traffic.

An initial report from the state medical examiner’s office stated that Thibodeau’s injuries included multiple high rib fractures, a left skull fracture, fractures to his right tibia and right fibula and his right radius and right ulna and multiple lacerations.

An employee of Harvey’s for more than 25 years, Thibodeau was the company’s foreman, according to his obituary.

No charges will be filed against Wilson, Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy said earlier this week. Almy said that there was insufficient evidence to show criminal negligence on her part.

In his report on the incident, Old Town police Officer Lee Miller, a certified accident reconstructionist, cited the following contributing factors in the fatality:

• A lack of signs or warning about the work area.

• A lack of traffic cones or flaggers to warn drivers about the people and equipment at the edge of the roadway.

• A lack of safety vests worn by employees.

The report also cited the position of the sun at the time of the incident as a contributing factor. Wilson told investigators the glare prevented her from seeing Thibodeau, according to the report.

Miller noted in his report that an Orono resident who had driven through the area shortly before and after Thibodeau was hit told investigators that he had seen paving company workers in the roadway and “was afraid that someone might get hit.”

William Coffin, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s area director for Maine, confirmed this week that OSHA is investigating Thibodeau’s on-the-job death.

Coffin said that OSHA follows rules established by the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices to protect workers. He said rules differ depending on the nature and location of the project. A company found to be in violation of applicable rules may be subject to penalties, including substantial fines, Coffin said.

Steven Coffin, the paving company’s owner, did not return telephone calls on Thursday and Friday afternoon seeking comment.

According to the incident report, Steven Coffin told police the work crew was getting ready to pack up and leave at the time Thibodeau was struck. Coffin also said one traffic cone had been set out to warn motorists about the work site but had been placed on a trailer before Thibodeau was hit. He said no signs were out but that “he did have one person trying to get traffic to slow down.” The worker attempting to direct traffic on Forest Avenue was not Thibodeau, according to the report.

Miller concluded that speed was not a factor in the incident, noting that Wilson was driving slightly below the posted 35 mph speed limit.

Miller said that according to several accounts, including that of Wilson and Orono police Sgt. Scott LaJoie, who was the first police officer to arrive on the scene, the sun was directly in front of the Jeep as it crested the hill while heading west on Forest Avenue.

Capt. Josh Ewing, acting chief of the Orono Police Department, said this week that the position of the sun when the accident happened resulted in a glare that made it difficult for motorists, including police, to see the work crew.

“Wilson stated that as she crested the hill the sunlight was blocking her view of the roadway,” Sgt. Scott LaJoie, the primary investigator, wrote in his report.

“Wilson stated that she drove to the left side of the roadway to avoid ‘an orange thing.’ The ‘orange thing’ was later determined to be the rear end of a skid-steer loader parked on the right side of the roadway, facing the Baptist Church,” LaJoie said.

“The rear end of the skid-steer loader was painted orange and was sticking out into the travel lane of the roadway by approximately two feet,” he wrote. “Wilson stated that she then struck a person and that she did not see the person due to the sunlight.”

Brenda Nelson of Millinocket, Thibodeau’s domestic partner for 30 years, said Monday that she and her family were upset that Wilson was not charged. Nelson provided a copy of the incident report she received from police to the Bangor Daily News.

Nelson said she planned to file a civil suit against the driver but did not mention taking a similar action against the paving company.

Nelson said that to her knowledge, Harvey’s provided safety vests to its employees and used cones, a large “men working” sign and a flagger at its work areas. She said she believes that this equipment had been stored because the crew, which had been at the Orono job site since 6:30 a.m. on the day of the crash, had put the equipment away because they were heading home.

Nelson said Friday that other family members have learned that while Wilson presented what appeared to be a valid car insurance card immediately after the fatal accident, police later learned that her policy expired on March 4 for nonpayment. This is confirmed in LaJoie’s incident report.

LaJoie said Friday night that Wilson, who now resides in Windham, was charged with the insurance violation last week.

Nelson said she and other loved ones were grateful to Orono resident Jessica Witham, who lives on Forest Avenue near where the accident took place and who rendered first aid after Thibodeau was struck and stayed with him until the ambulance arrived.

Bangor Daily News writer Alex Barber contributed to this report.

CORRECTION:

A previous version of this story said that Brenda Nelson was upset that Wilson was not charged in connection with the accident. Wilson was charged with an insurance violation.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/08/30/news/bangor/police-cite-paving-companys-lack-of-safety-precautions-as-factor-in-mans-death/ printed on November 26, 2014