A work zone safety demonstration put on by the New...

A work zone safety demonstration put on by the New York State Department of Transportation Wednesday at Belmont Lake State Park in West Babylon. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Forty-five vehicles barreled into state maintained highway work zones on Long Island last year — 20% of all such incidents in New York — highlighting the dangers that passing motorists pose to hard hats doing their job, according to state transportation officials.

Across the state, 214 such breaches took place on roads maintained by the Department of Transportation, DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri said. 

During an agency safety meeting at Belmont Lake State Park in West Babylon on Wednesday, Joey Marrero, a 12-year DOT staffer, told Newsday he came close to being hit by a wrong-way driver while working on Sunrise Highway in East Moriches last month. Marrero said he felt the wind from the vehicle, a GMC Yukon, as it hurtled through the maintenance zone and nearly sideswiped him, striking a Mack DOT construction truck behind him.

“I'm not really looking for cars coming the opposite way. My concern is the cars behind me because that's where 99.9% of the action happens,” Marrero said. But when he heard the sound of tires knocking into concrete, he looked up and saw the impact. 

Marrero, of Mastic, was more concerned about the driver, identified by police as Donald Kwarta, who was later pronounced dead at a hospital, than his own immediate safety. 

It's only when the adrenaline wore off that Marrero began to process what happened. He phoned his sister to tell her about his close call and, although he’s glad he wasn't injured, he is aware of the risks that come with his job. 

“It’s simple — if you see the vests and signs, just slow down,” Marrero said.

Marrero was one of about 200 workers taking part in a dozen workshops as part of a two-day safety event to brush up on new and age-old safety protocols, from dealing with fires or environmental threats like ticks and fleas to operating a payloader. Workers also received new reflective vests and replaced their work helmets with new, shiny ones. 

Among the hands-on classes, Daniel Kutchman, an agency highway safety supervisor, explained how to properly set up work zones and prepare for hazards. 

“We’re put in a lot of different predicaments, and it's always changing. Every day we face something different, whether it's accidents, emergency calls, whether it's bad weather, snow, ice, rain — we respond to everything,” Kutchman said.

“What we showed here today is the perfect scenario for just the bare minimum of what we expect,” he said.

Drivers who speed past work zones risk getting ticketed by police officers disguised as highway maintenance crews or by automated speed enforcement, which started last year.

Kenneth Willingham, of Westbury, a 24-year transportation worker, swapped his worn orange headgear for a new one.

“This is very important," he said, adding it protected him from injury several times. The DOT safety event is one of two held annually. 

“We’re doing everything we can to educate the public and our workers to keep everybody safe because everyone wants to go home to their family at the end of the day,” Canzoneri said.

Forty-five vehicles barreled into state maintained highway work zones on Long Island last year — 20% of all such incidents in New York — highlighting the dangers that passing motorists pose to hard hats doing their job, according to state transportation officials.

Across the state, 214 such breaches took place on roads maintained by the Department of Transportation, DOT spokesman Stephen Canzoneri said. 

During an agency safety meeting at Belmont Lake State Park in West Babylon on Wednesday, Joey Marrero, a 12-year DOT staffer, told Newsday he came close to being hit by a wrong-way driver while working on Sunrise Highway in East Moriches last month. Marrero said he felt the wind from the vehicle, a GMC Yukon, as it hurtled through the maintenance zone and nearly sideswiped him, striking a Mack DOT construction truck behind him.

“I'm not really looking for cars coming the opposite way. My concern is the cars behind me because that's where 99.9% of the action happens,” Marrero said. But when he heard the sound of tires knocking into concrete, he looked up and saw the impact. 

Marrero, of Mastic, was more concerned about the driver, identified by police as Donald Kwarta, who was later pronounced dead at a hospital, than his own immediate safety. 

It's only when the adrenaline wore off that Marrero began to process what happened. He phoned his sister to tell her about his close call and, although he’s glad he wasn't injured, he is aware of the risks that come with his job. 

“It’s simple — if you see the vests and signs, just slow down,” Marrero said.

Marrero was one of about 200 workers taking part in a dozen workshops as part of a two-day safety event to brush up on new and age-old safety protocols, from dealing with fires or environmental threats like ticks and fleas to operating a payloader. Workers also received new reflective vests and replaced their work helmets with new, shiny ones. 

Among the hands-on classes, Daniel Kutchman, an agency highway safety supervisor, explained how to properly set up work zones and prepare for hazards. 

“We’re put in a lot of different predicaments, and it's always changing. Every day we face something different, whether it's accidents, emergency calls, whether it's bad weather, snow, ice, rain — we respond to everything,” Kutchman said.

“What we showed here today is the perfect scenario for just the bare minimum of what we expect,” he said.

Drivers who speed past work zones risk getting ticketed by police officers disguised as highway maintenance crews or by automated speed enforcement, which started last year.

Kenneth Willingham, of Westbury, a 24-year transportation worker, swapped his worn orange headgear for a new one.

“This is very important," he said, adding it protected him from injury several times. The DOT safety event is one of two held annually. 

“We’re doing everything we can to educate the public and our workers to keep everybody safe because everyone wants to go home to their family at the end of the day,” Canzoneri said.

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From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book. Credit: Newsday Staff

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