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Death of Omaha Public Works Department Worker Leads to Internal Investigation

Salvatore Fidone, a city worker with the Omaha’s Public Works Department, was struck and killed by a car in January while working with a crew tasked with filling a pothole near U Street on 144th.

At the time of the crash, the crew Fidone was working with was accompanied by two trucks, one to do prep work on the pothole and one carrying the asphalt that would be used to fill in the hole. According to city officials, the crew has parked their trucks correctly, set up the necessary warning signs and were wearing reflective vests – the only thing they were missing was a third truck to act as a backup and to direct traffic away from the workers.

While it’s not clear whether or not crews working on major roads need to be accompanied by three trucks, several parties including union leader Tony Burkhalter and attorney Brian Jorde argue that the city is legally required to do so.

Their argument is tied to a settlement agreement from nearly seven years ago where the city agreed to follow the federal guidelines laid out in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. In his comments, Jorde, the attorney who handled that settled case, focused on a diagram included in the manual that showed how three work trucks should be positioned while working on a multi-lane road.

“The reason the best practices exist is because it’s foreseeable that without it, people die,” he said.

Right now, the city is investigating these claims that a third truck is required for all work on major roads. Part of the issue is that, in a different section of the manual, the third truck is only included as something that “may be considered,” phrasing that could lead some to believe that it’s an optional guideline.

Austin Rowser, a street maintenance engineer, stated that they attempt to send out a third truck on jobs most of the time and said that the city has temporarily agreed to send out a third truck with crews repairing potholes on major roads while they look into the matter.

“Our practices meet minimum standards,” he said. But he also said: “I don’t believe that minimum standards are good enough for our people.”

All trucks were fitted with flashing lights as part of the agreement from nearly seven years ago. With these safety warnings in place, Rowser questioned whether or not an additional truck could have saved Fidone’s life in this situation.

“If you’re not paying attention and you don’t see the lights, I don’t know how there’s an extra vehicle out there would help,” he said.

Despite that line of questioning, Burkhalter strongly supports the third truck becoming a requirement for all road crews working on major roads.

“We feel like it draws more attention to us being out there,” he said. “It gives a cushion where vehicles aren’t really able to run up on the back end, and that could cause chaos.”

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