The death of Missouri Department of Transportation employee Lyndon Ebker, New Haven, more than two years ago is still fresh in the minds of his co-workers, friends and transportation leaders in the state of Missouri.
On Nov. 2, after five different judges and more than 2 1/2 years, Norman Haimila, the driver who hit and killed Ebker, had his driver’s license revoked for life and was fined $10,000.
On Wednesday, as part of the monthly meeting of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission held in Washington, MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said he’s concerned with how long the judicial punishment process took.
“The driver didn’t have his license taken away until a month ago,” McKenna said. “Our ‘hit a worker, lose your license’ laws have never really been enforced.”
As a result of the Ebker case, it was announced Wednesday that automatic license revocation for drivers who hit a MoDOT employee or contractor will be the state agency’s top legislative priority for 2019.
Ebker was hit and killed by an elderly motorist while cleaning a bridge over Beouf Creek outside New Haven in spring 2016.
The following year, after legislation was passed, the bridge was named in his honor.
Washington native and MoDOT State Maintenance Engineer Becky Allemeroth addressed the commission on the legislative push and said she is reminded of Ebker’s death frequently.
“It took 2 1/2 years and five different judges to get his license revoked,” Allemeroth said. “All that time, it was hard on the community and the workers in that area knowing he was still driving.”
Allemeroth said she knew Ebker and as soon as word traveled across the state that a worker had been killed the first question was who was it.
“It takes my breath every time I drive across that bridge,” she said. “I just hope something good comes of this.”
MoDOT Governmental Relations Director Jay Wunderlich said they have not yet found a specific legislator to file the bill for 2019, but may be looking for someone who represents Franklin County.
Previous legislation involving Ebker was sponsored by former State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, who Director McKenna commended for his attention to continued worker safety, and State Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan.
Both Alferman and Schatz worked with the Ebker family throughout the bridge-naming process.
Alferman has since moved on to a position in Gov. Mike Parson’s administration and Schatz recently was elected a Senate pro tempore, which will limit his bill filing for 2019.
Aaron Griesheimer will fill Alferman’s seat. He was elected Nov. 6 and has not yet been sworn into office, and MoDOT may look to a more experienced legislator to handle the bill.
The legislation will be crafted to work opposite of current laws where licenses are revoked only after judicial action is taken.
If the legislation is successful, a driver’s license will be automatically revoked and the driver can then gain their license back either through a petition to the circuit court or by retaking both the written and hands-on driving state tests.
After four Franklin County judges recused themselves from the case, Haimila’s sentence was handed down by the fifth judge in the case, Judge Diana Bartels from the 23rd Circuit (Jefferson County).
After the Nov. 2 guilty plea and sentencing, Ebker’s daughter, Nicole Herbel, told The Missourian the main thing her family has wanted since her father’s death was for Haimila’s license to be taken away.
“I’m happy,” Herbel said. “At the end of the day, Dad isn’t coming back. I’d like to have seen the process go quicker, but it’s nice that it’s over.”
Herbel added a key for the Ebker family in discussions with the prosecution was the lifetime revocation of Haimila’s driver’s license.
“The judge asked him to turn over his license right there in the courtroom,” Herbel said. “Then she held it up for all of us to see.”
In the years since the accident, the Ebker family and former MoDOT co-workers have been very outspoken about road worker safety and awareness.
“We are addressing the General Assembly again in 2019, to make the license removal immediate instead of waiting years to see this happen,” Herbel said.