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SALT LAKE CITY — Each year hundreds of road construction workers are hurt and dozens killed when cars lose control in the orange cone zone. One Utah construction worker is still battling health problems from his roadside injury that happened almost five years ago.
A crash broke 11 bones in Brent Udy's body, and badly injured his brain. A distracted driver plowed into him in a roadway work zone while he managed traffic. Udy was wearing his reflective gear when he was hit by an SUV.
"They told me mentally, I would never be able to work around traffic again," Udy said.
The night of Oct. 13, 2008, Udy was working traffic control on the Riverdale Road construction project. As he set up traffic cones on the bridge over I-15, an eastbound SUV hit him at 50 mph.
"I don't remember any of it," Udy said.
He only knows what he's been told, and what he read in the police report.
"Lucky that I went straight down the bridge, and not over the side," he said.
He returned to the site this week for the first time since the crash.
"It's a long process to getting back to not being afraid that every one of these cars is going to swerve over and hit me," Udy said.
Leading up to the crash, two teenage passengers were looking at a cell phone picture and the 17-year-old driver wanted to see it.
They told me mentally, I would never be able to work around traffic again.
"He leaned over to try to see on the phone, pulled the wheel and drove through the workzone and hit me," Udy said.
Udy was on the other side of the cones, wearing reflective gear and a helmet.
"From where he hit me, I landed 70 feet," he said.
The impact cracked the liner of his helmet. Udy woke up in the hospital after a week of being heavily medicated.
"Everyone was very worried because he was unconscious," said Udy's wife, Amber.
Amber feared for his life.
"When I was notified, it was kind of like, maybe he wasn't going to make it," Amber Udy said. "It was very scary."
That could be one of their family members, and how would they drive if it was one of their family members that was working on the side of the road? They would probably be more careful.
Udy struggled to focus. He knew doctors could fix his broken bones, but he says he knew something wasn't right with his head.
"Just being able to have a memory and be able to have a thought process," Udy said. "That was the part that really scared me."
His first memories of the crash came back a week later.
He broke his pelvis in four places, three ribs and his heel — 11 broken bones in all. He's had knee surgery and his shoulder has been operated on five times.
After the traumatic brain injury he still struggles to remember things and find the right words. He cannot button a shirt or tie his shoes. He cannot play basketball, baseball or ride ATVs with his friends.
"It's changed everything," Udy said.
Udy faces physical and emotional challenges every day.
"There's days that I'm angry at the whole situation," he said. "But I believe that it's a matter of educating people that they need to pay attention."
- In 2011, 73 road construction workers who were not in vehicles were killed by cars nationwide
- In 2008, the year Brent Udy was hurt, 10 workers were killed managing traffic nationwide
- In the last two years, two workers were killed by drivers in work zones in Utah
In 2011, nationwide, 73 road construction workers who were not in vehicles were fatally injured by cars. In 2008, the year Brent Udy was hurt, 10 workers were killed managing traffic, just like Udy.
In Utah, two workers were killed by drivers in work zones in the last two years.
"I think it's gotten worse," Udy said. "People are more frustrated with more construction and the longer it goes on."
He stresses that the workers need to stay alert, too.
Udy has worked a total of only eight months since the crash. Workman's compensation helps, but he's exhausted his savings, which was meant for a new home.
Udy says to remember that constructions workers are just doing their jobs and trying to support their families.
"That could be one of their family members, and how would they drive if it was one of their family members that was working on the side of the road" Amber Udy said. "They would probably be more careful."
"They just want to go home at the end of the day and be able to enjoy their family," Udy said.
Legislators are considering tougher fines in work zones. Udy doesn't know the answer to this problem, but offers some advice for drivers.
"Leave 10 minutes earlier," he said. "It's not a race through there."
Udy is optimistic that with his experience in road building, he'll find a job in the industry off the road.