At about 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, it started to snow heavily and Roxanne Czerewko decided to leave work early to beat the bad weather and messy roads. Going about 25 mph down Plant Road, Czerewkowhose husband is an employee of Spotlight Newspapersnoticed the roads getting slick and a snow plow coming towards her.
`The plow was traveling quite fast and started to come over into my lane, so I maneuvered my car practically onto the shoulder. The plow clipped the front of my truck, spun it up and I ended up in a ditch,` said Czerewko.
In the moment when the plow hit her truck and she was airborne, Czerewko said she thought she was going to die. Usually in control and the self-proclaimed `rock` of her family, Czerewko said she was in too much pain to think straight and couldn’t speak.
`The plow driver came to say sorry but I was terrified and couldn’t respond,` said Czerewko.
There were a group of people standing in a front yard across the street who saw the accident, said Czerewko, and one of the women told the plow driver, `don’t you think about leaving until you know that woman is okay.`
`People saw what happened and one woman came to let me know she would help me if I needed it. She said she saw the plow traveling way too fast and confirmed that he came into my lane,` said Czerewko.
Czerewko went to the emergency room by ambulance and had x-rays on her neck. She ended up with some bruises, sprains and a whole lot of achiness. As of Monday, March 1, she was still out of work and returning to the doctor.
But Czerewko’s nightmare continued to unfold in the days after the accident. When handling the insurance side of things, she discovered that according to the Town of Halfmoon, employees operating public vehicles are exempt from liability, under New York State Law, and the town would not pay for any damages.
Section 1103 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law exempts vehicles that are engaged in highway work from complying with the rules of the road and limits liability in regard to reckless conduct. While the town may recognize its plow driver was at fault, unless there was solid proof of negligence`like driving while intoxicated or intentionally running a stop sign`the town is not held responsible for accidents of this type, in any way.
`They [the town] have already admitted that they knew they were at fault but won’t do anything. If I were to hit the plow, I would be liable and as a taxpayer of New York State, I expect the officials and public works department to exercise safety in everything they do. They shouldn’t be exempt from negligence and it was clearly a negligent act,` said Czerewko. `It makes me feel like, as a citizen, I’m not important and I’m not valued. This portion of the law hurts the citizen; it hurts the good citizen that goes to work every day, attends church and pays the bills. It makes me feel like I don’t matter. Since my accident is of no consequence to Halfmoon, it’s like ‘we wrecked your car, hurt you and know we’re at fault, but oh well, move on.’`
Jennifer K. Post, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Transportation, said the law is quite valuable for governments because it takes into consideration the sometimes difficult factors municipal workers encounter while doing their jobs.
`It lets them get their jobs done while protecting taxpayers from having to pay for damages done while workers were doing their jobs for the good of the town,` said Post. `They’re allowed to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do in the regular course of driving.`
Just this winter, there have been several other reported incidents, similar to Czerewko’s. A man in the Town of Brunswick had his brand new Kia Spectra wrecked by town dump truck while it was parked in front of his house. A Saratoga Springs resident said it took nearly two years to settle an incident involving a town snow plow and a Queensbury plow truck reportedly hit the truck of an independent contractor.
John Pingelski, superintendent of highways for the Town of Halfmoon, said he does recognize there was one accident in the town this winter but that there has only been one or two other incidents over the past three years. He said his plow drivers receive in-house training and begin driving smaller pick up trucks before graduating to a larger plow.
`They start off being Machine Equipment Operators and have to work their way up to start plowing. We don’t just stick someone in a large truck with a huge plow on the front and send them on their way,` said Pingelski.
Czerewko said this accident sent up some red flags for her and she isn’t convinced that plow drivers are properly trained to do what they do. She also said that perhaps there should be more than one person in the truck`one to pay attention to the road and one to do the snow pushing.
Pingelski said the town of Halfmoon is one of the few in the area that only have one person in the truck instead of two, for a couple reasons.
`No.1 is cost; we’re cutting the payroll in half. No.2 is efficiency. Instead of 10 people going out we’re sending 20 with twice the equipment and the same manpower,` said Pingelski. `Four eyes are always better than two but with the accident we had, I’m confident it wouldn’t have mattered if there were six people in the truck.`
Pingelski said he can’t comment on specifics of the accident because the insurance logistics are still being processed and dealt with. He did say that he’s sure all his workers are competent.
`There’s no doubt in my mind that my crew knows what they’re doing. I don’t even tell them about the part of the law that makes them immune from liability, but if they did know, there’s no way any one of them would push that issue,` said Pingelski.
According to the town clerk’s office, Selective Insurance Group handles insurance claims for them. As of press time, the insurance agent on the case had not been reached for comment. Check back to Spotlight Newspapers or spotlightnews.com for updates on this story.