After worker's death, tollway urges drivers to report construction-zone speeders

  • Civil Engineer Michael Wiater recounts a close call in a work zone Tuesday at a news conference as Illinois tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom, right, state police and workers listen.

      Civil Engineer Michael Wiater recounts a close call in a work zone Tuesday at a news conference as Illinois tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom, right, state police and workers listen. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/18/2018 7:18 PM

Illinois State Police and tollway leaders Tuesday urged drivers to pay attention in construction zones and report scofflaws after the second fatal crash in a year killed a worker last week.

Frank Caputo of Bartlett, remembered as a father, Cubs fan and karaoke lover, was repairing pavement in a Tri-State Tollway (I-294) work zone near Des Plaines at 10:17 p.m. Friday when a car struck and killed him.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The possibility of an accident was always in his brother's mind, said Dominic Caputo. "He was always worried about it, and I was always worried about it," Dominic Caputo said. "I always used to tell him, 'Hey Frank, watch out' ... but (Friday) night I got busy and didn't warn him."

Frank Caputo's "death is a terrible tragedy and it didn't have to happen," tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said at a news conference near the Touhy Toll Plaza.

The driver who hit Caputo crashed into a truck at the scene. He is not in custody, but state police Capt. Robert Meeder said investigators are "working to secure search warrants to obtain critical evidence" in the case.

"Once collected, it will be presented to the Cook County state's attorney for review and approval of charges," Meeder said. Speed was a factor in the crash, he noted.

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Just hours after Caputo was killed, a driver took a joy-ride through a construction zone on the south Tri-State, said civil engineer Michael Wiater, who works for tollway contractor Omega Engineering.

Wiater was in a section of closed lanes, talking with co-workers when someone shouted a warning.

"I turned and noticed a car approaching in the closed lanes at a very fast speed," Wiater said. "In less than a second, a white Dodge Charger sped past us weaving around dump trucks and other construction equipment.

"It was clear he knew he was in a work zone due to the movements and maneuvers he was making," Wiater said, adding he felt lucky to be alive.

On Sept. 18, 2017, tollway worker David M. Schwarz was killed in a hit-and-run by a truck driver while he was picking up debris on the south Tri-State in Alsip.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This is, unfortunately, all too common and nothing new," tollway Executive Director Elizabeth Gorman said, noting there are about 4,800 work zone crashes statewide each year. In 2017, 29 people died in those crashes; four out of five involved someone other than a worker, she said.

Schillerstrom said "our commuters owe it to (workers) to slow down, and avoid distracted and impaired driving."

He asked drivers to report people "who go around barriers and ignore lane restrictions. If you see someone blasting through a work zone, call *999."

Dominic Caputo called Frank a "free spirit" and said "his gift was making friends."

Tributes to Caputo, 59, who worked for Omega, calling him a loyal friend and comparing him to a "Teddy bear" poured in on Facebook and a memorial page. Visitation is from 3 to 9 p.m. Friday at Cumberland Chapels, 8300 W. Lawrence Ave., Norridge.

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