FIRST ALERT EXCLUSIVE: Highway worker’s brush with death an urgent message for drivers

"You're always fearing for your life out here," Jacob Pinchart said as he described his close call.
Updated: Apr. 14, 2022 at 5:00 PM CDT
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A highway worker is still in shock after he says he was just inches from being hit and possibly killed on the job in March.

Jacob Pinchart was on the job, working to repair a road in Brown County. He’s among thousands of workers in Wisconsin begging drivers to pay more attention and slow down in construction zones.

“You get so used to all the cars driving by and all the road noise, it was cars driving by and then that happened,” said Jacob Pinchart. “And then everything just kind of goes blank. You’re in shock.”

It’s Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. In an First Alert Exclusive, Pinchart shares his close call with hopes it will open the eyes of drivers so they see construction workers in a different light.

“You’re always fearing for your life out here. You never know who’s going to cross that white line and come over,” Pinchart says

Pinchart was working to set up warning signs in the construction zone when it happened.

“I got out of the truck. I grabbed the sign off of our trailer and by the time I had the sign in my hand, he was there,” Pinchart remembers. “Inches. He was inches away from me.”

A driver crossed the white line onto the shoulder of the road. Pinchart had just stepped there.

“A driver came so close to me, he pulled this out of my hand and knocked the mirror of his own vehicle,” says Pinchart. “This four foot fiberglass and plastic sign, knocked it out of my hand. His passenger side mirror went flying. It shattered on impact and then he never stopped. Never had the audacity to stop and see if I was OK.”

It shook him.

“My heart was racing. I walked down in the ditch, and I actually got on my knees and actually took a few breaths. It’s like, oh! Relief that I’m still here because it was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to deal with,” said Pinchart.

Pinchart couldn’t see what distracted the driver, but two guys on his crew did.

“One guy was still in the truck and one guy actually got out of the passenger’s side of the truck and he goes, ‘Dude, if he would have came over a little bit farther to the right, all three of us would have been dead,’” says Pinchart.

Brown County Highway Commissioner Paul Fontecchio says, “I asked him if it was his first time almost getting hit on the road, and he said yes, and I said, well that’s the hardest. After that, you get a little bit more used to it.”

That’s a problem. Fontecchio says his crews should never get used to nearly dying on the job.

“I’m seeing a pretty significant uptick in reckless driving and it is a little scary because my greatest fear as highway commissioner is that I’m going to lose someone on the road. I don’t ever want to deal with that,” Fontecchio says.

Some drivers are going 10-to-20 miles over the speed limit. And some are distracted by their phones.

“These cell phones are the absolute devil. People cannot put them down,” says Fontecchio. “It takes a lot of willpower not to look, for just a second, even if you’re not texting, just a second and that second can kill someone.”

Highway crews take a lot of extra measures to keep themselves safe, setting up warnings for drivers over a mile away. That could be a dump truck back or a traffic impact attenuator.

“If a vehicle were to hit it, it will absorb the kinetic energy so that hopefully the person hitting it doesn’t get killed. That’s a secondary concern to me. I want something really solid between my guys on foot like we are right here, and that vehicle coming at us,” says Fontecchio.

The Highway Department is buying two more traffic impact attenuators to use in additional construction zones.

“I’d say you probably spend 50 percent of your day looking behind you,” says Pinchart. “It’s hard to get stuff done, because you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, making sure you’re still safe, covering your back.”

They have to keep working. They’re pleading with drivers to do their part. Pinchart suggests thinking about the workers and the families they have at home.

“They were all scared. My girlfriend is like, ‘I don’t want you back out there,’” says Pinchart. “Our life and you killing us and that being on your conscience and record for the rest of your life isn’t worth it to us or you.”

The driver ripped the sign out of the worker's hand and took a side-view mirror of a truck with other workers inside.

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