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KDOT worker killed in W. Kansas mowing accident

Published: Aug. 18, 2016 at 3:56 PM CDT
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The Kansas Department of Transportation says a worker for KDOT was killed Thursday in a mowing accident in Sherman County.

KDOT says Darren Way, 39, died when the riding mower he was operating overturned, pinning him beneath it. KDOT says the accident took place along Interstate 70 in Sherman County. It's the third riding mower-related death this summer in the central/western Kansas area.

Carle Witte owns the shop Maximum Outdoor, and has worked in the mowing industry for 40 years.

Witte says rollover accidents are typically preventable.

"It happens too much, and it happens probably because someone is going somewhere they shouldn't, or they've removed a roll-bar," he said.

A roll-bar is something found on many larger mowers, and holds the machine up - stopping you from getting pinned.

"When it rolls over, it'll hit that bar and hold it off the top of it, provided he's wearing the seat belt and doesn't end up under the roll-bar first," Witte said.

KDOT says employee Darren Way was wearing the seat belt when his mower flipped, but the roll-bar was put down. The state hasn't released if Way was mowing in ditch or hilly area, or if there were trees in the area, a common reason people put the roll-bar down.

Witte says rollovers typically happen when someone is mowing at an angle that's too steep.

"When they buy it (a riding mower) they've got this ditch they wont mow, and two years down the road they've figure out they can mow it. They got to sit on the seat just the right way, they got to put extra weight on one fender. You couldn't imagine everything we've seen that customers do to alter things from what it should be," Witte said.

He says that's dangerous because any number of unpredictable factors could cause the mower to flip.

"A wash out, a wheel could hit a gopher hole, a rut. That changes the weight distribution and the machine rolls over," he said.

All riding mowers have a maximum angle that's considered safe - for most mowers, that's 15 degrees.

"If it's too steep to mow sideways you gotta mow up and down" Witte said.

He says mostly, people need to use common sense.

"That's the key word. Common sense. A lot of it goes out the side of the mower with the grass," he said.

OSHA has a tool you can print out to measure the slope of a hill: https://www.osha.gov/dsg/riding_mowers/.

Or, you can use a level - a tool also found on the iPhone and many smartphones - to see if the slope of your hill is within what's considered safe for your mower.

KDOT is still investigating what went wrong in the accident that killed Way.

"We are saddened at the loss of our co-worker and offer our condolences to Darren's family, friends and co-workers," says Interim Transportation Secretary Ricard Carlson. “They are in our thoughts and prayers as they cope with this tragedy.”

KDOT says Way was an equipment operator working out of the department's Goodland subarea office. Way worked at KDOT since Sept. 2014, the department says.