Senators hear testimony from family members of those who have been killed while working on highway projects.
The fine for speeding in a highway work zone would at least double under a bill now in the South Carolina Senate. After hearing dramatic testimony Tuesday, senators decided to keep working on the bill, likely to raise the fines even more.
Elizabeth Ward of Georgetown County told a Senate subcommittee about her son Kenneth Long, Jr., who was just 22 years old and in his third week on the job as a flag man at a road construction site in Williamsburg County last August.
"The gentleman did not even slow down through the work zone area," she said. "He had 1,500 feet to hit his brakes and try to slow down and he didn't. He left the road and my son was running for his life when he hit and killed him."
The driver was fined $310 and given four points on his license.
The bill in its current form would double the fine to between $250 and $400 for speeding in a work zone if no one gets hurt. If someone is injured, the fine would be up to $1,000 and jail up to 60 days.
But after hearing testimony, senators want to amend the bill so the fine if no one is injured would be between $500 and $1,000, and if someone is injured it would be $2,000 plus possible prison time.
Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Kingstree, said of the bill, "This is huge! I've been in the Senate 26 years. I've never seen anything like it."
The bill would use half the fine money to hire state troopers to sit at highway construction zones. Highway safety consultant Earl Capps told senators studies have shown that's a much more effective deterrent for drivers than fines alone.
He worked on a project to widen I-26 in Charleston County.
"I can't begin to tell you how many incidents we had," he told senators. "Drivers going through work zones, going through closed lanes. One of them destroyed my car going 90; blew a .15 (blood alcohol level) an hour afterwards. We had at least two dozen company vehicles hit by people in closed lanes. We had a number of fatalities."
Billy Grayson, safety officer for Banks Construction, said, "Our guys, they're tough highway workers, but they are still fearful of stepping foot into a work zone at night because of the things that we've seen on almost a daily basis. Not just night time but day time. We have near-misses with people driving in work zones hitting equipment. We've had people hit."
His boss, Reid Banks, told senators having those extra troopers in the work zones will make a huge difference. "We might get 'em once every couple of weeks. We need 'em on our jobs every night," he said.
He said now, the Highway Patrol provides troopers to be stationed in work zones only for federally-funded projects, but they're needed on all projects.
But the bill is not about protecting just highway workers. According to the Federal Highway Administration, looking at highway construction zone fatalities in 2008, 85 percent of the people killed were drivers and passengers.
Kenneth Long's nickname was "Peanut." Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Little River, told Long's mother and grandmother that the bill would now be referred to as "Peanut's Law."
Peanut's grandmother, Alberta Howard Bratcher, said of the proposed fine increase, "No amount of money will bring him back. But just maybe another family won't have to suffer what we've suffered and will suffer the rest of our life."