Traffic officials were furious as they tried to fix potholes on Interstate 5 north of its junction with Interstate 205 early Tuesday morning, hospitalizing six Washington State Department of Transportation workers.
As maintenance crews continue to work in full force to repair roads damaged by last week’s snow and ice storms, officials are urging drivers to take care and make sure everyone gets home safely. This is not the first time officials have raised the alarm about work zone safety. Sunday’s crash is part of an alarming increase in crashes involving road crews, WSDOT data shows.
Authorities said two pickup trucks, each carrying three workers, were parked on the northbound side of I-5 near Milepost 8 at 9:50 p.m., waiting for the lanes to be closed to repair the potholes. According to WSDOT Maintenance Supervisor Brad Clark, within 90 seconds of parking, the suspected drunken driver, who was going about 60 mph, drifted onto the shoulder and crashed into the back of one truck, pushing it into the back of another.
The Chevrolet Impala was one of the last vehicles to pass before crews closed traffic as part of the rolling slowdown, Clark said.
“We have taken the highest precautions to provide them with a safe working environment,” Clark said. “But these are factors beyond our control.”
Six WSDOT employees and the driver of the Impala, identified by police as Yupada Fontung, 33, were taken to area hospitals. 4 of the workers were driven by an ambulance, and two by supervisors. As of Monday afternoon, all road crews have been released from hospitals and are recovering at home, WSDOT said.
Troopers arrested Fontung, who was in Portland, on suspicion of driving under the influence and vehicular assault. He appeared on the charges Monday in Clark County Superior Court. As troopers responded to the crash, court records say some road workers were wrapping another’s head in gauze, and some were complaining of back pain.
Clark called the incident one of the more serious accidents he has seen in terms of the number of injuries.
“It makes it even more difficult to get a phone call and hear that six of your crew have been taken to the hospital,” Clark said. “And when you get that first phone call, you don’t get a lot of details. It’s ‘It went down. They go to the hospital.” That’s fine, wait for more information and then hope for the best.”
While this accident was particularly scary, Clark said, work zone accidents unfortunately happen fairly regularly.
“We have an incident that happens maybe once a month where our crews get hit either in the lane or in the shoulder or just going about their daily business,” he said.
In 2023, 16 Department of Transportation vehicles collided in Southwest Washington, according to the agency. This number was 14 in 2022, and eight in 2021. Nationwide, there were 857 fatal crashes in work zones in 2020, resulting in 774 deaths, WSDOT reported, citing data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In Washington, DC, drivers are required to move when approaching work or emergency zones. If changing lanes is unsafe, drivers are required to slow down to 10 mph below the posted speed limit, except when the speed limit is over 60 mph, in which case they must reduce their speed to no more than 50 mph.
WSDOT often partners with the Washington State Patrol, Washington Towing and Recovery Association and other agencies to remind people of the law, which was amended in 2023 after two Longview tow truck drivers were killed in 2021.
In April of that year, an operator was assisting a family on I-5 near Castle Rock when a DUI driver collided with a family’s SUV, pushing it into a tow truck. Three people were killed – the tow truck driver and a Battle Ground couple – and a fourth person was injured.
On Tuesday morning, WSDOT issued a message for those driving through work zones.
“If we’re angry… we’re angry,” WSDOT’s Facebook post reads. “It happens very often. It is people who work on the roads. They are not just vests and hats.”
Two pickup trucks that were hit sat heavily at a WSDOT shop in downtown Vancouver Tuesday morning. Bumpers were broken, bags of asphalt were piled on the back seat of one.
“It’s very difficult for us to try to do our jobs and keep in the back of our minds that there are people who are putting our lives at risk,” Clark said. “And that’s every day, basically, I’m thinking about the crews and making sure everybody comes home at the end of the day.”