MoDOT worker's death drives friend's devotion to public safety training

November 16, 2018 - 7:24 am
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Six years after his friend and co-worker was killed while working on the side of a highway, a former public safety official devotes much of his time to teaching the next generation of first responders.

Missouri Department of Transportation employee Clifton Scott, an overnight incident responder for KC Scout, was killed instantly when a drunk driver struck him while traveling between 82 and 88 miles per hour.

Scott was working at the scene of an accident at Interstate 70 and Highway 291. There were KC Scout vehicles, Independence Police cruisers and fire and rescue vehicles at the scene, all with lights flashing. Reflective cones were also in place.

Scott's boss that night was Rusty James, who was called at home. James knew his friend was dead before he made it to the crash site.

"I wasn't prepared to find my friend in a pile against the jersey barrier," said James, who referred to Scott as the best of the best when it came to incident response.

The impaired driver later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.

Clifton Scott was killed in September of 2012. James has since retired from KC Scout. Before that he retired as a sergeant with the Lenexa Police Department. James now teaches first responders to be safer in his position with the Kansas Fire and Rescue Training Institute.

Saturday is the end of National Traffic Incident Response Awareness Week. The third-annual event is a reminder for drivers to make room for first responders and other people who work along roads and highways.

"The Department of Transportation and public works personnel that are out here working on our highway are doing jobs that no one else wants to do, and they're tough," James said.

James travels all over Kansas teaching first responder classes. He often does it on his own time and pays his own expenses.

"I know the value of it," James said. "I know I'm saving lives with every class that I teach."

Tow trucks are also considered first response vehicles, James said. Tow operators have a very hazardous job, with an average of one fatality every day in the U.S.

Highway workers need drivers to help them be safe. Drivers need to avoid distractions, keep their eyes on the road, slow down and move over for people who are working next to the roadway, James said.

"These incidents, while you may survive them, you don't ever recover," James said. "They're with you for the rest of your life."

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