Lawsuit: Dangers of Highway 99 through Bakersfield should be addressed for safety

January 13, 2021 | 5:00 am


In November 2019, a big rig driver slammed into the back of a pickup truck on Highway 99 at Rosedale Highway, killing both the pickup’s driver and passenger, Kathy McNutt and Luther Harold Goldman. A year later, at nearly the same location, a 10-year-old boy died when a big rig crashed into the back of the car he was riding in.

The stretch of Highway 99 through Bakersfield has seen in its share of crashes in recent years, particularly in central Bakersfield, which is currently is under construction. Officials should take extra steps to make sure it’s safer for drivers.

That’s the message from Jimmy McNutt, son of Kathy McNutt, who died in the November 2019 crash. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the McNutt family in their wrongful death lawsuit against the big rig driver, his company, and Caltrans, and helping raise awareness of the dangerous roadway.

California Highway Patrol reported in that November 2019 crash that there was no evidence of tire friction marks from the semi, showing the driver did not attempt to brake, and leading them to believe negligence could have played a role. The driver of the pickup, Luther Harold Goleman, was Kathy McNutt’s boyfriend. Kathy McNutt was a loving grandmother, mother, daughter, and sister, Jimmy McNutt said.

“There is a big increase in accidents there, for sure,” Jimmy McNutt told KGET-17 News. McNutt works as a tow truck driver, and regularly assists and responds to accidents locally. “We respond to quite a few. It seems like if not every day, every other day.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark suggested Caltrans could increase the number of warning signage to make sure drivers are aware they are in a construction zone, or install “rumble strips” in the area to alert inattentive drivers of potential dangers, which cause a vibration and audible rumbling.

In the case of the fatal crash involving the 10-year-old in November 2020, CHP reported that traffic had come to a complete stop on the southbound lanes of Highway 99 just north of Rosedale Highway. A driver of a semi-truck was unable to stop in time and crashed into the rear of the vehicle, pushing the car into the rear of another trailer.

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‘Drive like you work here’: Use extra caution to protect road workers and others

April 17, 2019 | 6:00 am


Each spring, “National Work Zone Awareness” reminds drivers to use extra caution in construction zones. And with the various construction projects taking place throughout Bakersfield and Kern County, the message of safety is that much more important.

While you’re driving through these zones, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Chain | Cohn | Stiles wants you to remember this year’s safety slogan: “Drive like you work here” to keep yourself and others safe.

“The people working to improve our roadways are just like you and I. We all want to get home to our families after a hard day’s work,” said David Cohn, managing partner of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Let’s make sure we always slow down and be extra alert in construction zones.”

Since 2000, Federal Highway Administration has worked with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Traffic Safety Services Association to bring national attention to motorist and worker safety and mobility issues in work zones through National Work Zone Awareness. In Bakersfield, construction has been ongoing as workers continue working on the Centennial Corridor, a four-phase freeway project that eventually will connect the Westside Parkway to Highway 99, and the Highway 58 and Highway 99 connector ramps. Construction of “Phase 4” is expected to begin this summer, and the entire Centennial Corridor Project is expected to be finished in 2022, according to local media reports.

Unfortunately, many dangers lurk for road workers, which include crashes that result in injuries and even death. In 2017, the most recent year with complete statistics available, the United States saw 132 worker fatalities in road construction sites, 222 fatal work zone crashes involving large trucks and buses, and 203 fatal work crashes where speeding was a factor, according to the federal department of transportation.

In fact, speed is a contributing factor in almost 29 percent of 2017 fatal work zone crashes, according to the department of transportation. Speeding drivers are less likely to safely navigate the roadway conditions, lane closures, lane shifts, rough surfaces, and other conditions that are common in work zones. Distracted driving is also a big concern.

In California alone since 1921, 189 Caltrans employees have been killed on the job. In 2017, 46 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured from crashes that happened in construction zones, according to data from the California Highway Patrol. California’s “Move Over Law,” which went into effect in 2007, requires drivers approaching Caltrans vehicles, tow trucks or emergency vehicles with flashing lights to move over a lane if safe to do so.

When traveling through work zones, drivers should practice the following work zone safety tips:

  • Plan ahead. Expect delays, plan for them, and leave early to reach your destination on time. When you can, avoid work zones altogether by using alternate routes.
  • Obey road crews and signs. When approaching a work zone, watch for cones, barrels, signs, large vehicles, or workers in bright-colored vests to warn you and direct you where to go.
  • Slow down. Look for signs indicating the speed limit through the work zone. Keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you and follow the posted speed limit.
  • Move over. California has move-over laws when passing work crews and official vehicles parked on the shoulder with flashing warning lights.
  • Avoid distractions. Keep your eyes on the road and off your phone. Just drive.
  • Watch for sudden stoppages. In 2017, 25 percent of fatal work zone crashes involved rear-end collisions.
  • Watch for large vehicles. Don’t make sudden lane changes in front of trucks that are trying to slow down. In 2017, 50 percent of fatal work zone crashes involving large trucks or buses occurred on rural roadways. Between 2013 and 2017, fatal work zone crashes involving large trucks increased by 43 percent.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a work zone accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.