An attorney representing one of the six highway construction workers killed in a work zone crash on Interstate 695 last year has questioned whether proper safety features were in place on the day of the crash.

After reviewing newly released details from the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the March 22, 2023, crash, attorney Michael Belsky said he believes that the accident was preventable.

“This accident should never have happened,” Belsky said.

After two cars collided on the inner loop of I-695 near Interstate 70, one of the drivers lost control and her vehicle entered a work zone through an opening in concrete barriers that were designed to isolate the workers from the highway. Six workers were struck and killed.

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Belsky, who represents one of the victims, Sybil DiMaggio, said there should have been a safety truck blocking the opening in the concrete barriers. Because there was not, he said, “this left the 149-foot gap that allowed this accident to happen.”

“Had the truck been where it was supposed to be, this couldn’t have happened,” Belsky said.

The NTSB report mentioned that a safety truck — called a truck-mounted attenuator, or TMA — designed to protect workers “was parked and unattended.” It had been “temporarily used as a delivery truck for materials” after a flatbed truck was disabled, the report states.

The report did not explicitly say whether the truck was improperly positioned.

In an email, NTSB spokeswoman Sarah Sulick said officials cannot comment on details about the TMA vehicle because it is an ongoing investigation. Final reports can take up to two years to finish, she said.

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Crews were in the median of the highway as part of a project to reduce congestion on the Baltimore Beltway by rehabbing shoulders, improving drainage and installing new signage.

Belsky said he does not know who was responsible for the safety truck, but that he is pursuing answers.

“As the NTSB has done their investigation, we’re doing a parallel investigation, which is obviously a little bit different,” Belsky said. “But the question about who was responsible for moving the truck and leaving it unattended? Those are questions that we want to know the answer to.”

Belsky highlighted another apparent safety failure: There was not a sign visible that warned motorists that the highway shoulder was closed.

The report states that NTSB investigators found a sign with a “Shoulder Closed” warning “had been toppled,” adding that it “had recently been struck by a motorist and was scheduled for reinstallation.”

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The crash occurred after Lisa Adrienne Lea, then 54, of Randallstown, tried to move into the passing lane of the inner loop and clipped a Volkswagen Jetta driven by Melachi Duane Darnell Brown, 20, of Windsor Mill. Both were traveling at a speed of more than 120 mph five seconds before the crash, authorities say.

The speed limit in the work zone was 55 mph.

Lea’s 2017 Acura TLX spun out, traveled through a more than 150-foot gap in the concrete barriers that separated the work zone from the rest of the highway, overturned several times and struck the workers.

Maryland State Police identified the victims as DiMaggio, 46, of Glen Burnie; Rolando Ruiz, 46, of Laurel; Carlos Orlando Villatoro Escobar, 43, of Frederick; Jose Armando Escobar, 52, of Frederick; Mahlon Simmons III, 30, of Union Bridge; and Mahlon Simmons II, 52, of Union Bridge.

Brown was not injured in the crash, and Lea was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma with non-life-threatening injuries.

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Lea is charged with manslaughter and related offenses in the crash. A Baltimore County judge last year ordered her released on home detention while she awaits trial. She is due back in court next month.

Lea told investigators that she had a history of seizures and experienced one prior to the crash, according to the NTSB report.

“With respect to the crash, the driver told the hospital neurology provider that all the driver remembered was feeling like her normal self then blacking out and waking up in the hospital hours later,” the report says.

According to the report, she initially said she had been taking prescribed seizure medication, but stopped two days prior to the crash because she was vomiting as a side effect.

“The pharmacy from which the driver reported receiving seizure medication had no record of such medication,” the report states. “The driver’s outpatient pain management physician stated that the driver had stopped taking seizure medication years ago.

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“The last time she took seizure medication was around May 2022; she did not fill it at all in the year before the crash,” the report continued.

Lea also reported that she suffered from chronic pain, and used medical marijuana to treat it, routinely smoking three times per day, the NTSB said. It found that she had cannabis and a muscle relaxant in her system before the crash.

Brown pleaded guilty last month to six counts of negligent vehicular manslaughter, and was sentenced to 1½ years in the Baltimore County Detention Center.

Belsky noted that there were multiple other crashes in the same location as the 2023 incident, showing how important it was to have proper safety features in place. In the three-mile stretch that included where the accident occurred, there were 536 crashes from 2018 to 2022, according to the NTSB report.

“But when on a day like this, when something that was supposed to be there wasn’t there, that takes it to the next level. I mean, that’s something you can never anticipate and that’s next-level dangerous … the NTSB report speaks to how dangerous it is,” he said.

Belsky said his firm is not currently pursuing a lawsuit, but that he wanted to read the final NTSB report, “digest it, and then we’ll figure out what next steps are from there.”

Gov. Wes Moore recently signed into law the Maryland Road Worker Protection Act, which was crafted by a state commission led by Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller in the aftermath of the crash. The legislation allows for more automated speed cameras in work zones and increases fines for violations.

Baltimore Banner reporter Dylan Segelbaum contributed to this report.

A headline has been updated to clarify how an attorney described the incident.

Abby Zimmardi is a reporter covering Howard County for The Baltimore Banner. Zimmardi earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in December 2022.

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