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[whitespace] Caltrans encourages safer driving

They hold a roadside simulation after two Caltrans employees are seriously injured

Cupertino--The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) held a press conference at the Cupertino Maintenance Yard on Jan. 24, to remind motorists of the dangers that Caltrans crews face as a daily component of their jobs, and implored drivers to slow down around work zones.

Speakers from Caltrans delivered their addresses in a simulation of a typical work area, with cones and flashing arrows directing traffic around a small desk in the right northbound lane of Bubb Road.

Speakers stepped up to the desk to deliver their messages concerning the importance of conscientious driving around work crews. Caltrans District Manger Herman Ramirez invited the members of the press in attendance to "come into my office," and experience "how it feels to have traffic whizzing by you." He said, even with the lunchtime traffic on Bubb Road, the demonstration did not fully represent the dangers faced by Caltrans workers when surrounded by cars racing by at speeds of more than 70 mph.

Sgt. Di Salvo of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) also reminded drivers that the law requires them to slow down when near people working beside the road.

"[The CHP] will be out there to enforce the rules of the road," he said.

The press conference came in the wake of an accident on Jan. 19, which seriously injured two Caltrans workers from the Cupertino yard. The two workers, Loretta Garley, 57, and Mark Balsi, 33, were loading a truck with scrub brush cut down by a team from the California Conservation Corps (CCC), when Rebecca Skinner, 47, allegedly drove through the cones separating them from traffic.

Authorities say Skinner's Ford Thunderbird struck the two Caltrans employees and pinned them against a nearby garbage truck. The impact carried enough force to sever Balsi's left leg just below the knee and throw it out onto the road. Garley suffered a broken leg in the accident, as well.

CHP officers said they found marijuana and prescription drugs in Skinner's car, and arrested her on charges of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol--a felony offense.

According to Caltrans Public Information Officer Lauren Wonder, doctor's decided they could not reattach Balsi's leg, and had to amputate the area around the wound to a point just above his knee. He remains in the hospital, but doctors released Garley from the hospital after treating her injured leg.

Caltrans and CHP officials credit Melinda Silvas, the CCC crew supervisor present at the scene of the accident, for saving Balsi's life. Silvas fashioned a tourniquet out of a belt, wrapped it around Balsi's leg to stem the loss of blood from his wound, and held it place manually until emergency medical technicians arrived on the scene, according to Wonder.

Silvas spoke briefly at the press conference, delivering a tearful address before the gathered members of the Cupertino yard.

"This is very hard," she said. "I just thank God that [Balsi] is alive, and I hope that these people here get all the help they need."
Kevin Fayle

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