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New memorial signs remind drivers to 'slow down and move over'

Cary Ashby • Updated Sep 21, 2018 at 10:13 PM

CASTALIA — Three new Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission memorial signs dedicated Friday afternoon will serve as a solemn reminder for drivers to pay attention in construction zones.

The late Kenneth C. Bailey, 19, of Bellevue, and Berton C. Stewart, 44, of Monroeville, died as the result of injuries from working in the same area Sept. 17, 1970. The incident happened east of the Fremont/Ohio 53 exit on the Ohio Turnpike. A tractor-trailer rear-ended a passenger vehicle and then veered into the work zone.

Bailey was killed instantly while Stewart died seven days later. They worked at the turnpike maintenance building in Castalia.

“We’re happy they are honoring these men who lost their lives,” said Dublin resident Karen Stewart, who was 5 years old when her father died. “It means a lot to the families. … It brings tears to your eyes. It’s awesome.”

Berton Stewart was a maintenance worker for 11 years. He was president of the Sandusky branch of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a 4-H adviser and mason.

“He was a very strict (but) very forgiving man,” said his son Bob, of Monroeville.

Bailey’s nephew, Mike, and his mother, Kathy Polley, of Bellevue, were at the Castalia building Friday to honor Kenneth, a Bellevue High School graduate.

“He was just a student worker. He was home from college,” his nephew said. “That’s what he did in the summer.”

A mechanic and two tow-truck operators also were honored Friday.

McCoy’s tow-truck driver David R. Lescher, of Norwalk, was 30 when he was killed Oct. 13, 1995 when a tractor-trailer went off the road and slammed his wrecker into a ditch.

The incident happened less than a mile from where mechanic Jeff Hotz, 40, of Fremont, was killed Oct. 20, 2003 by a car whose driver reportedly was asleep at the wheel. Hotz had stopped on the turnpike to repair a disabled truck.

Sandusky resident Frank Protzman Jr., 34, was a tow-truck operator for Charlie’s Towing. He was assisting a woman whose minivan was disabled on the shoulder of the road Aug. 20, 2002. A semi driver failed to move over and hit Protzman, who was standing near his wrecker.

“All these people are younger than I am now. That doesn’t seem right,” said Randy Cole, director of the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission, who expressed his condolences to the families of the men whose lives were cut short.

Lt. Rick Reeder, Milan post commander of the state Highway Patrol, reminded the crowd that even though summer is over, “construction season is not done.” He recommended the following safety tips when driving near and through work zones: Reduce your speed, move to another lane, increase your following distance, be patient, plan ahead and look for signs.

“Slow down and move over; that’s all that we ask,” Reeder added.

Cole said a recent incident strikes home the importance of driving safely, paying attention and not driving distracted — even though the trooper from the Milan post wasn’t injured and inside a cruiser.

About 2:02 a.m. Thursday, the trooper was assisting a motorist with changing a tire on the side of the road on the turnpike in Berlin Township. A Volvo commercial vehicle drove off the right side of the road, sideswiped the stationary cruiser and then fled the scene. The car had disabling damage to the left-front wheel and tire and prevented the trooper from pursuing the other vehicle.

Dash-cam video revealed the Volvo was pulling a white-box trailer with a wind faring which spans the entire length of the trailer, along with a black placard displayed on the passenger side and rear doors. The incident remains under investigation and troopers are attempting to get more information about the driver and/or vehicle.

“Who hits a cop and drives away?,” Cole said passionately. “I do not understand it.; I will not understand it.”

The memorial sign program by the turnpike is part of its work-zone awareness campaign.

In May, state officials honored Trooper Robert Perez Jr. and Norwalk mechanic Carl Kermit Starkey in separate ceremonies. 

Perez, 24, died May 15, 2000 — three days after being injured when his cruiser was hit from behind by a minivan on the turnpike in Erie County near U.S. 250. Cole has said the driver was high on amphetamines and going 83 mph.

Perez, a lifelong Lorain resident, received his trooper commission in early April 1999. His first assignment was the Fremont post and he later transferred to the Milan post, which oversees part of the turnpike. Many members of the law-enforcement community came to his sign dedication ceremony in Milan Township.

Starkey, 46, was killed on the job in 1978 when a train hit him at the Middle Ridge Road railroad crossing. His dedication ceremony was at the Amherst maintenance building, where he worked as a mechanic for 12 years.

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