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Caltrans honors its fallen employees at the statewide Highway Workers Memorial Day

According to Caltrans, one of the biggest hazards faced by highway workers is inattentive, or distracted motorists - News 11's Vanessa Gongora reports

EL CENTRO, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - Caltrans and its partners held the first in-person ceremony in two years to pay tribute to highway workers who have died in the line of duty in honor of Caltrans Highway Workers Memorial Day.

The annual event attended by about 150 highway workers and their families highlighted Distracted Driving Awareness Month and was held on April 26.

A memorial display of 189 orange highway cones was showcased to signify each of the Caltrans workers killed statewide since 1921.

18 of those cones represented Caltrans workers from Imperial and San Diego counties, bringing these tragedies close to home.

According to Caltrans, The Fallen Workers Memorial is a time to remember those who lost their lives building, maintaining and operating California's world-class transportation system.

Caltrans District 11 Director Gustavo Dallarda says there are at least 10 incidents a month in lane closures where vehicles run through the cones and cause danger to the Caltrans employees.

Dallarda said people need to watch and follow the signs to keep the workers safe, so they can get back to their families at the end of a hard days work.

"I was just talking to one of our employees whose father was lost 11 years ago. He was telling me how his grandchild never got to meet his grandfather and that's really sad," said Dallarda.

He wants people to understand these workers have families counting on them to come home too.

The last Caltrans worker to lose his life was Maintenance Lead Worker William Casdorph in 2018.

Caltrans is pleased they do not have any new Caltrans employee names to add to their wall this year.

California Highway Patrol (CHP) Assistant Chief, Rob Seldon says he has been directly involved with investigations of Caltrans workers that have been hit on the side of the road. Seldon also says he has personal friends from CHP that were killed in the line of duty as well.

"We all grieve together when something happens to us," said Assistant Chief Seldon.

It's the reason Caltrans is launching its new campaign, "Quit Phoning Around" and “Get Off Your Apps.” 

It encourages drivers to be aware and stay safe so that all of these workers can come home.

A Caltrans Transportation Engineer, Carlos Lopez said just last month he saw his life flash before his eyes as a large piece of metal flew fight into his windshield while he was driving on the job.

"In a matter of seconds, this decided to approach and literally puncture the windshield. Luckily it didn't protrude in. It just stopped there and then hit flat in this position on the windshield," said Lopez.

Lopez said he was covered in shards of glass and it was ironic because he works with that kind of metal.

The memorial was held in conjunction with Caltrans Safety Awareness Week and emphasized the importance of drivers and employee work zone safety.

CHP says to slow down when you see the signs and cones and move over when safe to do so.

The event took place today at 10 a.m. located at Caltrans District 11 El Centro Maintenance Facility, 1102 Montenegro Way El Centro, CA 92243.

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Vanessa Gongora

Vanessa Gongora joined the KYMA team in 2022 and is the anchor/producer for CBS at 4 p.m.

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