Kelsie Lee and her father, Richard, public works director for the City of New London, N.H., remember Ryan Haynes, who was killed on the job in 2005 while filling potholes for the New London Highway Department. Photo: Kelsie Lee
Looking through the accident report, I found an interesting mention of the trooper's discussion with Attorney John Weld of the Merrimack County Attorney's Office. Weld stated that he didn't feel an autopsy was necessary; he didn't believe charges would be issued as a result of the accident.
After Briggs was shot while investigating a domestic disturbance, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte pursued a charge of capital murder and told the Concord Monitor that she'd seek the death penalty. Just one year later, the shooter is sitting in a courtroom. It seems to me that the Attorney General's office is offering information in haste, without looking at and evaluating the proper evidence. Should this be its normal operating procedure? I hope not.
What if Ryan were not a highway worker? What if he'd been a young child riding a bicycle who'd stopped to tie his shoe? Would the Attorney General's office have let Harding go with a simple fine? I hope not. What if it had been a police officer who'd just completed a motor vehicle stop?
As part of a college course, I polled 29 public works employees, public administration employees, firefighters, and police officers. I asked them if they had heard of Michael Briggs, Bruce McKay, and Ryan Haynes: 90% had heard of Briggs, 55% had heard of Mc-Kay, and 66% had heard of Haynes.
Then I asked them whether or not they agreed with the following statement: “Citizens feel as though public works/ highway employees are as valuable as fire department and police department employees.” Sadly, 90% disagreed.
This is interesting, because without public works employees we would quite literally go nowhere—they are the first to get called when it snows or when roads flood or wash away.
The media play a strong role in downplaying the importance of our public works employees. One public works respondent to my poll described his field as a “necessary evil” throughout New England—and seemingly everywhere else. “The general public still thinks of us as just pothole patchers,” one respondent said. “The only time we are really appreciated is during the winter months when the snow is deep.”
The divide between public works and public safety runs deep: On Nov. 28, 2007, New London-based publication Argus-Champion reported on the response of state and local emergency agencies during harsh winter weather, but made no reference to the hours of work public works crews were committing as well. Apparently, they don't even get remembered when it snows.
They, just like firefighters and police officers, are called out at various times throughout the day and night. They face some of nature's most inclement weather, yet we've made them feel as though we don't value their importance.
Catherine Schoenenberger has been a work zone safety instructor for the past decade and involved with many public works and highway departments throughout New England. She'd heard of Ryan Haynes' death over PWNet, an informational Web server for the public works industry. There is “hardly a mention of the dangers that public works personnel face every day, just doing their jobs,” she says. “No emergency bells ring, no sirens go off, no hats and dress blues, no warning, no recognition for the perils they face each day.”