Photo | Lagniappe
John Walton talks about the death of his son Marshall in a road construction zone in 2015. The resulting Marshall James Walton Highway Safety Act signed by Gov. Kay Ivey last year created the crime of vehicular homicide in Alabama.
Johnny Walton doesn’t want another family to go through what his went through more than three years ago.
His 25-year-old son, Marshall Walton, was killed by a distracted driver at a construction site on U.S. Route 45 on Feb. 13, 2015.
“I think about him every day,” the owner of John G. Walton Construction said at an Alabama Department of Transportation press conference. “He will always be missed.”
Walton described his son and brother Taylor as the future of the family business. Marshall was a all-state soccer player at St. Paul’s Episcopal School and attended the University of Mississippi before getting into construction.
At the time of Marshall’s death, a previous state law for vehicular manslaughter had been repealed and a Mobile County grand jury failed to charge the driver. Walton said the driver was not even given a speeding ticket because there was no law enforcement presence at the time of the incident.
“Outraged,” Walton said he and wife, Kathy, decided to help change the law. A bill sponsored by Republicans State Sen. Trip Pittman and State Rep. Chris Pringle was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey last year. The Marshall Walton Memorial Highway Safety Act makes vehicular manslaughter a Class C felony in the state, Pittman said.
“On our roads, in general, way too many people … put themselves and those they interact with in danger,” Pittman said. “It’s important we have a law for vehicular manslaughter.”
Pittman said he hopes the law brings better awareness of the issue and helps prevent deaths in the future.
There were 652 injuries and 18 deaths reported from crashes within construction zones in 2016. There were 492 injuries and 31 deaths in construction zones in 2015, and 504 injuries and 21 deaths in 2014, according to Drive Safe Alabama’s website.
In 2016, 76 percent of work zone crashes resulted in property damage, while 22 percent resulted in injuries and 1 percent resulted in deaths.
Vince Calametti, ALDOT region engineer, offered drivers tips for keeping construction work zones safe for everyone. It’s a good idea, he said, to check for where work zones will be located on a planned road trip. Drivers can find that information on the ALDOT website, he said. In addition, he said it’s important not to text and drive, or eat and drive, as these activities can cause distractions.
If the number of lanes is reduced because of construction, Calametti said, drivers should not try to pass other motorists and should maintain a safe distance. He added drivers should slow down when in construction zones.
“Keep these tips in mind for the good of the workers and fellow motorists,” Calametti said.
ALDOT Director John Cooper reminded those in attendance that the orange cones signify progress, but also signify risk. He said drivers need to try to not worry about delays when driving past work zones.
“We have a tendency to think it slows down our trips,” Cooper said. “Generally, work zones don’t hinder your trip more than about five minutes.”
Aggressive driving is an issue in construction zones, Capt. John Malone, district commander for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency public safety highway patrol. He said this is especially true if lanes are condensed or eliminated due to work.
“Don’t be aggressive,” Malone said. “Don’t try to be the first in line if the lane ends. Observe the signs; observe the messages … observe the lives of all those working in the zones.”