Three years ago, Nicole Herbel and her family were intact and their life was as normal as any other family living in Franklin County.
That all changed in April 2016, when the family patriarch, Lyndon Ebker, was struck and killed in a work zone just miles from his home in New Haven. He and his Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) crew were cleaning a bridge which now bears his name.
It took 2 1/2 years and five 20th Judicial Circuit judges to permanently revoke the license of the elderly driver who struck Ebker.
The death of Ebker has tossed his family into an unplanned crusade to keep other first responders, utility and highway workers safer while doing their jobs on the roads.
“I don’t want to be sitting next to another daughter because her dad was killed by an impaired driver too,” Herbel said. “I would rather sit next to her and her dad, knowing we did all we could to help keep him safe.
Frequent trips to Jefferson City to honor her father and present testimony has given her a new outlook on how the process works.
“This whole process has been enlightening and I am looking forward to future endeavors with MoDOT and our representatives,” Herbel said. “I never realized the amount of work and the number of people involved in our state’s legislation. The amount of respect in honor of Dad, shown by everyone involved, has been unreal.”
She added the only negative interaction at the capital was a representative stating this bill amendment would not bring a life back.
“While I understood where he was coming from with finding ways to prevent future accidents, I was bothered by his demeanor since he had met my dad,” Herbel said. “I expected his support since Dad was originally from his district. It was a good learning experience of one in opposition of what I believe to be right.”
Overall Herbel says the feedback has been positive, but some negative comments about the bill have come via social media, with a couple individuals questioning due process and trying to find ways to prevent the accident.
She stresses the push for the bill has never been about vengeance.
“I want to find more ways to prevent accidents like my dad’s from ever happening, but that is asking for a perfect world,” she said. “This simply will never exist. Our main focus is safety, I stress this to anyone who talks to me about the bill.”
She believes the bill is not only reactionary, but can act as a deterrent for future accidents because drivers would be aware of the punishments.
“If we can pass this bill, my hope is people will exercise more caution in work zones because they do not want to risk losing their license,” Herbel said. “Common courtesy goes a long way, but sometimes we need a strong external motivator to take care of each other.”
Two separate bills filed in response to Ebker’s death at the behest of MoDOT, proposing the automatic revocation of drivers’ licenses of drivers who hit workers on state highways, are moving through the Missouri House and Senate this week.
On Thursday morning, Herbel testified before the Senate Transportation committee on SB 254 filed by state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City.
Herbel said she would be giving a brief testimony then submit a written testimony.
“I was informed the Senate hearings run more formal than the hearing I experienced with the House,” she said. “It’s going to be tough to sum up everything in a few minutes. They will read my written testimony.”
On the House side, HB 499 has made its way over several hurdles and is nearing passage by the full body.
On Jan. 31, Herbel testified before the House Transportation committee. The bill was passed by that committee and then by the Administrative Oversight Committee before going back to the full House for perfection.
The bill is now in the hands of the Fiscal Review Committee and an executive session hearing is set for Monday afternoon Feb. 25.
“As always, my family and I continue to receive contact from state, highway, and city highway workers and their families,” Herbel said.
The efforts of the Ebker family have not only garnered the attention of MoDOT and the state of Missouri, Herbal said she was recently contacted by an organization called Keeping Us Safe, started by Matt Gurwell, a retired Ohio State Trooper.
He contacted Herbel in regards to sending a letter in support of the bill, to State Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, who sponsored the bill in the House and has been in contact with MoDOT in hopes of partnering with the Highway Safety Division.
“I also shared with him my hopes of building a foundation in honor of Dad, focused on work zone awareness and impaired drivers,” Herbel said. “This keeps us going as we are reminded we need to keep fighting to keep their loved ones safe.”
For now, Herbel will have to sit back and wait for the gears of the Legislature to continue to turn as both bills make their way through the halls of the capital.