Memorial to fallen highway workers unveiled
WILLIAMSTOWN — Forty-nine names adorn the West Virginia Fallen Worker Memorial unveiled Wednesday at the Williamstown Welcome Center in honor of state Division of Highways employees who died on the job.
“Our mission today, going forward, is not to add any names to this memorial,” said Randy Damron, with the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Office of Communications, during Wednesday’s ceremony.
Although the memorial is dedicated to all workers who have died since the state Road Commission formed in 1921, it is located in Wood County because the idea started here as employees of the West Virginia Division of Highways District 3 worked to come up with a way to honor one of their own.
Randall W. Bland, 49, of Waverly, was killed in June 2015 when a tanker truck struck a vehicle, setting off a chain reaction that resulted in another vehicle striking Bland as he ran to help people involved, said Rusty Roten, District 3 manager.
A committee of District 3 employees formed to consider a memorial to Bland was tasked by state officials with developing a statewide monument, Roten said. Damron and communications specialist Carrie Jones joined District 3 committee members Jake Bumgarner, Candy Caviness, Neil Reed, Kevin Reynolds and John Buck.
Ideas and sketches were solicited from DOH employees around West Virginia, with a concept by District 7 bridge inspector Marshall Snyder ultimately selected.
The statue of a DOH worker with a road cone in one hand and a stop sign in the other was brought to life by Morgantown-based Vandalia Bronze, led by sculptor Jamie Lester, who also designed the West Virginia Commemorative Quarter, among other projects.
Many relatives and friends of the workers honored by the memorial were on hand, including Bland’s widow, Tracey.
“It’s (an) awesome tribute to the fallen workers and my husband,” she said through tears. “(I) just wish that people would slow down in the work areas and remember that the workers do have families.”
That’s a message state and local officials hope the memorial will send.
Roten said the most carefully planned, by-the-book traffic alterations and lane closures can’t account for one crucial element: driver error. Drivers must understand that “distracted driving and excessive speed endanger both themselves, other motorists and highway workers in work zones.”
The most recent name on the monument is Glenn F. Lough, who Roten said died in a “senseless vehicle crash on I-79 through no fault of his own” in June in Kanawha County.
Speaking to survivors of Lough and other workers named on the memorial, state Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said “the DOH is a family.”
“You’re still on the team; you’re still a part of our family,” he said.
Forty-nine traffic safety markers, each with a vest and hard hat hanging on it, surrounded the statue for Wednesday’s ceremony, which was attended by more than 100 people.