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Idaho Couple Suing Wyoming Attorney, Snowplow Driver For Negligence

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Idaho couple is suing a Wyoming Department of Transportation snowplow driver for negligence over a 2019 accident in Teton County and their former attorney on allegations he failed to file legal documents on time.

Jacquelyn and Jeffrey Battle are suing Alex F. Freeburg, a Jackson attorney, for failing to file notice of a claim against Shirley Weerheim, a former snowplow driver, and the state of Wyoming in a timely manner.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, Weerheim was operating a snowplow in Teton County on January 29, 2019 when it collided with a car, pushing that car into the one driven by the Battles.

The lawsuit accused Weerheim of driving “carelessly and recklessly” on a highway at the time of the accident and seeks damages from the DOT and her on allegations of negligence.

“Ms. Weerheim was following too closely, traveling too fast for conditions and failed to keep a proper lookout and was otherwise negligent in the operation of the snowplow,” the lawsuit alleged.

Freeburg, meanwhile, was accused of professional negligence for failing to file a claim on the Battles’ behalf with the state in a timely fashion.

Under Wyoming law, to obtain damages from a government entity or employee, person must first file a claim with the agency involved. If the claim is denied, then a lawsuit can commence. The claim must be filed within two years of the incident.

According to the lawsuit, on Jan. 27, 2021, Freeburg sent notices of governmental claims to the state General Services Division. The notices were received by the state on Feb. 1, 2021, just beyond the two-year time period for filing such claims.

Freeburg was notified that same day by the GSD that the claims had been rejected as untimely, since more than two years had passed since the date of the wreck.

Around March 1, 2021, Freeburg contacted the Battles to advise them he had missed the filing deadline for their case. They were “shocked and dismayed,” the lawsuit said, adding Freeburg offered no remedy or explanation.

According to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Freeburg not only failed to timely file the sufficient claims notices, but also failed to “timely investigate the claims or to take any appropriate action” on behalf of the Battles. They also claim he was negligent in other ways, such as failing to meet the applicable standards of care for attorneys.

The Battles are asking for damages for medical expenses incurred both in the past and “which can reasonably be expected to be incurred in the future,” loss of wages in the past and future, past and future pain and suffering and loss of physicality in Jacquelyn Battle due to injuries sustained in the crash and loss of enjoyment of life.

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Wyoming Still Doesn’t Have Enough Snowplow Drivers

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

As winter weather (finally) arrives in Wyoming, the state Department of Transportation is still facing a shortage of drivers to plow thousands of miles of highways.

“We’re about 15% down in our permanent staffing in terms of snowplow drivers,” WYDOT director Luke Reiner told Cowboy State Daily back in October – and this week, he said that number hasn’t changed much.

“We’ve hired a few across the state,” he said, “but we are still very cognizant that we’re short.”

So just as he did when he was the leader of the Wyoming National Guard, Reiner resorts to “calling up” former drivers to fill seats when needed.

“If it’s a regional storm, we’ll search from outside to make sure we cover that area,” Reiner said. “But if it’s a great big storm, then we’ll cover it with people who used to be snowplow drivers and still have a CDL, and we’ll put them back on the road.”

Reiner said it’s not difficult to find former drivers within the ranks of current WYDOT employees.

“It might be someone got promoted up to an area maintenance supervisor position or something like that,” he said. “Well, those guys have said, ‘Hey, we’ll go back, we’ll get some windshield time, and we’ll help out.’”

According to the Federal Highway Administration, Wyoming has 62,620 miles of highways. So finding enough drivers to keep roads clear during a major storm event is critical, according to Reiner.

Reiner said it is easier to find crews for some parts of the state than others.

“The crews in the northern part of the state are probably, percentage wise, better manned than are our I-80 crews,” he said.

Tom DeHoff, WYDOT’s assistant chief engineer of operations, said the department has been able to hire a few snowplow drivers, but because there haven’t been very many snowstorms yet this season, there haven’t been many opportunities for training.

“It’s kind of like the first storm is getting the new guys in the trucks,” DeHoff said. “Because we have a lot of inexperienced snowplow drivers that are still doing ride-alongs with the experienced snow drivers. So that’s taking place right now, to train them, get them used to those roads in those conditions.”

Reiner said the top priority for the department is the safety of drivers on Wyoming highways.

“Our commitment to the state is, ‘Hey, we’ve got a job to do,’” he said. “And to the best of our ability, we’re in the business of getting it done.”

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Wyoming Department of Transportation: Stop Hitting the Snowplows

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is reminding drivers to be aware of snowplows after seeing 10 collisions involving the plows over a five-day period.

The strikes, which occurred from Feb. 11 to Tuesday, brought the total number of snowplows hit by other vehicles to 17 so far this winter season, which runs from October to May.

Most of the plows were struck from behind, resulting in minor damages and injuries. However, one incident involved a tractor trailer hitting the rear of the plow, which totaled both vehicles and injured the WYDOT plow driver, the department said.

“Because of one careless driver, there is one less plow and plow driver on Wyoming’s roadways,” WYDOT District 4 in northeast Wyoming said on its Facebook page.

In most cases, the vehicles striking the plows had to be towed from the highway, the department said.

Some of the recent weekend snowplow strikes occurred near Elk Mountain and Rawlins on Interstate 80, Interstate 25 near Cheyenne, I-25 near Wheatland, Chugwater and Douglas, on Wyoming Highway 120 south of Cody and on Wyoming Highway 28 near Farson.

On Saturday morning, a WYDOT plow truck south of Cody on Wyoming Highway 120 was hit from behind as the plow driver was parked in a mailbox turnout near the Park County maintenance shop. A truck sander was destroyed but no injuries were reported.

“We want to remind the public to be careful when driving around our plows during winter weather,” said WYDOT Director K. Luke Reiner. “Our drivers are out there maintaining the roads by clearing the snow and putting down materials to help keep traffic moving. We want all drivers to pay attention and be careful so everyone gets home safely.”

The number of strikes has fluctuated over the past few years, with 23 crashes recorded in the 2019-2020 winter season, eight crashes in 2018-2019, eight in 2017-2018, three in 2016-2017, seven in 2015-2016 and 13 in 2014-2015.

To avoid collisions, WYDOT officials urge motorists to pay attention, put down the distractions and drive cautiously.

Motorists should stay a safe distance, around the length of four vehicles, behind a plow until it is safe to pass. WYDOT’s snowplows typically travel at speeds of 25 to 45 mph, depending on conditions.

Motorists should never drive into an area of the road where they can’t see what’s in front of them.

“If a motorist sees a cloud of snow ahead of them when they are driving, there’s a good chance it is a snowplow,” Reiner said. “Do not drive into that cloud. Motorists should stay back and wait to pass. If a motorists sees the plow and they need to pass, they should do so only if they absolutely need to.”

Motorists should never pass a snowplow on the right side of a two-lane road, because the vehicle could be using its wing plow, a plow that sticks out from the side of a truck, and a motorist may end up colliding with that part.

“If you can’t see to safely pass, a plow driver probably can’t see you either,” Reiner said. “We are urging the public to use caution and have patience. The snowplow will pull over to let you pass when they are able to and when it is safe for both the snowplow driver and the motorist.”

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WYDOT crews work to clear Snowy Range Road

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Crews from the Wyoming Department of Transportation are working this week to clear the Snowy Range Road between Laramie and Saratoga of snow drifts reaching more than 6 feet in depth.

Crews from Laramie and Saratoga are trying to clear all snow off of the 68-mile stretch of Wyoming Highway 130 before the Memorial Day holiday, an effort that usually begins in mid-April, said WYDOT spokesman Matt Murphy.

“A lot of them (crew members) really enjoy it,” Murphy said. “They take pride in their work.”

Using bulldozers, rotary plows and snowplows, the crews will work to remove all the snow from the highway that provides a scenic link between Laramie and Saratoga.

“It’s very beautiful, it’s kind of one of our more hidden gems in Wyoming,” Murphy said of the highway. “It’s a really scenic highway and there’s just a lot of recreation opportunities.”

The road closes every year for the winter — last year, it closed on Nov. 6 — and then reopens for summer travel, usually by or near Memorial Day.

Murphy reminded drivers that even though the highway may be open by Memorial Day, slush and water can still find their way onto the road as snow along the highway continues to melt, creating icy patches at times.

“It is still May and we are high up in Wyoming, so it can always get a little icy, particularly in the mornings and evenings, when it’s out of the sun,” he said. “So we always tell people to watch out for some slush and some slick spots until it can really get melted down later in the season.”

Ride along in a WYDOT snowplow as drivers work to reopen Wyoming roads

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WYDOT snowplow ride along after a blizzard

There is a lot of manpower – and horsepower – required to get things back up and running after a massive storm.

Our videographer, Mike McCrimmon, rode along with Wyoming Department of Transportation snowplow driver Duard Dillday III today as state transportation workers hustled to clear and reopen Wyoming roads after the #BombCyclone blizzard blanketed the region with heavy snow and severe winds. #wywx

See our extensive coverage of the storm here, here, and here. And be sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter for the latest local updates delivered to your device daily.

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