By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO August 5, 2003 Dean Smith felt a little foolish when he opened a thank you note from Mary Ablanalp last week.
The letter commended a group of New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) workers for saving her life a few weeks before.
But Smith didnt know what she was talking about.
The acting resident engineer of NYSDOTs Monticello office, Smith thought he was up on all the office gossip.
But it turns out these guys werent telling tales out of school about their recent experience.
I was surprised they didnt mention it to anyone, Smith noted.
Instead he had to glean the information on their heroic acts from Ablanalps letter and another from Janet Myers of Jeffersonville.
According to Smith, a crew that consisted of Rick Shaddock, Bob McCormick, Melvin Watson, John Edwards, Rich Lowe, Wayne Trumbull, Ray Calhoun and Larry Watson was out working in the eastbound lanes of Route 17 in the early morning of July 10.
Calhoun was headed up the Exit 104 ramp to remove some of the work zone signs when a car, driven by an unidentified elderly man, drove right past the Do Not Enter signs at the end of the roadway and into Calhouns path.
He blew by him into the eastbound lane, Smith noted.
Calhoun flashed his lights and hopped out of the DOT truck attempting to flag down the wayward driver, but to no avail.
Realizing a driver going the wrong way on Route 17 could spell imminent disaster, Calhoun hopped back into the truck and called the crew back in the work zone and alerted them to the crisis.
Ablanalp was headed from her Liberty home to an early doctors appointment in Middletown when she noticed several men in bright orange shirts ahead of her on the hill near Exit 104.
Coming up on that mountain, you have a clear view of everything, she explained. It was just amazing to me to see those guys.
After fielding Calhouns call, the DOT workers had run directly into the roadway and began waving to oncoming traffic, stopping cars and moving them over to the side of the road.
They made traffic come to a complete halt, Ablanalp recalled. We were all aware something wrong was happening very quickly.
It was an incredible way to start my day.
They were able to eventually bring the confused driver to a halt and called in NYS Police to help get him off of the road, although Ablanalp said there seemed to be a lot of trouble in stopping the car.
Thank God they were there, because that guy wasnt going to pull over, she said. These men put their lives in absolute danger.
It was a very, very dangerous situation, and as far as Im concerned, they did a really good job.
We need to be very grateful to them, she continued.
They deserved accolades for what they did, Myers added.
She was on her way to work in the real property division at the Government Center in Monticello, and it wasnt until she got to the office that Myers realized how dangerous the situation could have been.
Smith is proud to know he has such dedicated workers on staff, men who are humble, to boot.
Hes still shaking his head over how tight-lipped they were about their whole effort.
Apparently they do take their jobs quite seriously and care about the public, Smith noted. Theyre sort of on the modest side, I must say.
They saved lives and risked their own.
Smith has hung the thank you notes up on the DOTs office wall to let the crew know they did a good job, and all theyve done is smile at the wall, he said.
A letter was sent to the DOTs regional office in Binghamton as well, commending them for a job well done.