DEXTER, Maine — A Dexter man with 15 years of experience in the asphalt industry is working to get state lawmakers to adopt legislation he believes will save lives.
Joel Costonis said recently that he came up with the concept of “Ricky’s Mandate” in response to the May 7 death of Richard E. Thibodeau Jr., who was killed when he was struck by a Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Keri-Jon Wilson, then of Orono, during a parking lot paving job in Orono. Workers and equipment involved in the job were in or near the roadway, according to a police report detailing the accident investigation. The glare of the setting sun was cited as a factor.
“The initial prompt for me to create Ricky’s Mandate was, of course, the death of Mr. Thibodeau,” said Costonis, who was hired as Thibodeau’s successor and worked alongside the deceased man’s son, Richard E. Thibodeau III, until a work-related arm injury sidelined him.
“I personally never knew Rick Senior but you don’t need to know Rick Senior to do what’s right, and this is really what’s right because had this law existed at [the] time so would Mr. Thibodeau,” Costonis said.
A foreman for Harvey’s Paving and Sealcoating, Thibodeau was not wearing a high-visibility safety vest when he was struck. Neither cones nor construction traffic signs had been put up at the worksite at Faith Baptist Church at 161 Forest Ave.
Police determined that a lack of safety precautions on the part of Harvey’s Paving contributed to Thibodeau’s death. An investigation by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration resulted in five citations and $12,400 in fines for “serious” violations of workplace safety standards.
In an effort to prevent similar deaths and injuries in the future, Costonis has come up with a proposal to create what he calls the Maine Department of Roadside Safety. The program would establish a system of permitting and inspections for all earthwork construction and paving companies working within 10 feet of a public roadway. The idea is to ensure that the necessary safety precautions are taken at all roadside construction projects, large and small.
As it stands, enforcement of roadside safety standards is spotty, Costonis said.
“There’s zero to no true regulation,” he said. “I’m not trying to take a pot shot at OSHA or at their local department of transportation. They established the rules. But whether or not somebody follows them is a different story.”
As Costonis sees it, the roadside safety program would place agents and support staff throughout the Maine Department of Transportation’s five regions. He said the program would fund itself through permit fees, which he suggests would amount to 1 or 2 percent of a project’s total cost.
“The object, and the most important part of what we’re trying to do here, is to protect our workers, protect the passerby and protect the [work] environment. In the business as a whole, there’s too many opportunities for somebody to get hurt,” he said. “Unfortunately, Mr. Thibodeau paid the ultimate price, and Miss Wilson is living with that weight that she shouldn’t have to live with.”
Rep. Ray Wallace, R-Dexter, said last week that he sponsored and submitted a draft bill, HR 2652, on Costonis’ behalf, but the legislative council voted 7-3 earlier this month not to pass it on to the Maine Legislature because they felt it “lacked merit.”
Costonis said that Wallace has requested an appeal, which will be considered on Nov. 21.
“I’m thrown a bit with respect to the Legislative Council. Not a bit but a lot. I’m really disappointed with it,” Costonis said.
“Some people want to blame Ms. Wilson for this accident,” Costonis said. “I don’t care where the sun is. If you’re the one causing the interference in the road … it’s your responsibility to put more cones out, put another sign out, put another [flagger] on the road. Even if it took an hour to establish a safe job and a safe environment, it’s an hour that’s well worth it.
“I’m not in any way, shape or form doing this to hammer Harvey’s Paving. It could be Joe Blow Paving. It doesn’t matter. What happened, happened. I can’t control it, and it could happen to any business on the globe,” he said.
It isn’t yet clear how Costonis’ proposal will be received by those in the paving and earthwork construction fields.
Maine DOT spokesman Ted Talbot said this week that it was premature to comment on the draft legislation, which has yet to go before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.
Hope Perkins, president and chief executive officer for Associated Builders and Contractors of Maine, also declined to comment this week. She said that while safety is the organization’s top priority, the language of Costonis’ plan was so detailed and comprehensive that she would be remiss if she did not provide the group’s board and governmental affairs committee the opportunity to thoroughly review it before weighing in on it.
Matthew Marks, chief executive officer for Associated General Contractors of Maine, said safety is a priority for his organization but declined comment for the same reason.