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Plowing accident prompts PennDOT changes

| Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, 11:06 a.m.

PennDOT is changing the way its crews plow bridges in Butler County after a plow driver pushed snow and ice off a bridge in Muddy Creek Township, injuring a passenger in an SUV on a street below.

“There are hundreds of areas where something like this could happen,” said Bob Skrak, PennDOT's maintenance manager in Butler County, recalling a similar incident a few years ago when snow and ice came off an overpass onto a parked car in Butler.

Skrak said he ordered crews not to plow more snow to the sides of bridges that have snow plowed against their walls until crews remove it with front loaders. In cases where bridges have to be plowed, drivers are being instructed to travel slowly across them, he said.

“We're going to change the way we do business,” Skrak said, noting flag crews will temporarily stop traffic on roads below bridges with large piles of snow while loader trucks clear the excess.

A PennDOT spokeswoman in Harrisburg could not say whether the agency is changing policy anywhere else.

The Butler County order came in response to an incident about 1 p.m. Saturday in which a PennDOT plow pushed snow and ice over a bridge wall along Route 19 and onto an SUV traveling below on Route 422. At least 4 feet of snow already was packed against the bridge wall from earlier plowing, Skrak said.

Ice shattered the SUV's front windshield, state police said. Paramedics took passenger Eric Williams, 39, of Cleveland, Miss., to Jameson Health System in New Castle for treatment of eye injuries, which state police described as minor, officials said. Williams could not be reached for comment.

The falling ice shattered the bottom of the windshield. Skrak said he suspected injuries could have been worse had ice shattered the upper portion of the windshield and sent more glass into the SUV. Five people, including children ages 10 and 3, were in the vehicle.

The plow driver didn't know anything had gone over the side of the bridge until he stopped moments later to help those in the SUV, Skrak said.

“It was an accident, nothing he did intentionally. He feels as bad about it as anyone,” Skrak said, noting PennDOT is not disciplining the driver and police did not cite him.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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