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Crash Jams S. County Commute, Kills Driver

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A fatal traffic accident involving a Caltrans crew caused massive delays for south Orange County commuters early Monday, authorities said.

The accident happened at 9:16 a.m. on Interstate 5 southbound near San Clemente. California Highway Patrol Officer Katrina Lundgren said a man driving a delivery truck rear-ended one of two Caltrans vehicles operating a “moving lane closure” near Avenida Calafia. The truck, its front end severely damaged, then overturned, she said.

The truck driver, 39-year-old David Eugene Harvey of Garden Grove, was pronounced dead at the scene.

“The lane closure was clearly marked with signs and lights, but for some reason the driver did not see,” Lundgren said.

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A Caltrans worker was taken to San Clemente Hospital & Medical Center, where he was treated and released. Ralph Atencio, an equipment operator with 18 years of experience, “was pretty shook up,” said Rose Orem, a Caltrans spokeswoman.

Atencio’s condition might have been far more severe if not for a safety device that Caltrans uses to reduce injuries. Called an attenuator, it is a 93-inch-wide steel box filled with a honeycomb-type mesh cushion attached to the rear of the agency’s trucks.

“It’s a mounted crash cushion designed to absorb the energy from an impact,” Orem said. “We had to do something to lessen the severity of injuries to our workers and damage to our equipment.”

Caltrans has one of the highest fatality rates of any agency working on the state’s highways, with 154 of its employees killed on the job since its founding in 1924. Many of those deaths, Orem said, were caused by errant drivers who crossed barriers or missed warning signs for lane closures, then collided with Caltrans vehicles.

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Attenuators dramatically decrease the impact in such accidents, Orem said. “We’ve really increased the use of them in the last 10 years because they really do what they are intended to do. I think the attenuators are a godsend--just a little bit of extra insurance for our workers who have to be out there on the road.”

In San Clemente on Monday, investigators closed three lanes of the freeway for more than six hours to clear the wreckage and investigate the accident, causing delays to thousands of morning commuters. The CHP is continuing to investigate, authorities said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Cushion of Safety

Caltrans workers may have been saved Monday by a protective cushion on the back of their truck.

Source: Caltrans

Graphics reporting by JANICE DODDS/ Los Angeles Times


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