Damon Mattozzi’s drunken-driving legacy is a twisted pile of steel that once was a pickup.
The 21-year-old Nine Mile Falls man died nine years ago about a mile from his home when his vehicle veered off State Route 291, went down an embankment and struck a tree. Despite the painful reminder, Mattozzi’s family keeps the truck on display at mile post 19.
“If I walk out there, that’s when I feel the pain,” said 29-year-old Darren Mattozzi, born 11 months after his brother. “If it makes at least one person think about their actions, then it does its job, and his death was not in vain.”
Through Sept. 1, extra DUI patrols will honor the Mattozzis and other families who have lost loved ones as a result of drinking and driving, said Kate Carlsen, spokeswoman for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.
During 2007, traffic crashes killed 568 people on Washington roads. Impaired drivers were involved in 263 fatal crashes, or 46 percent.
“As one who has knocked on the doors at 3 a.m. to deliver the worst news possible to a loved one, I strongly urge all Washington drivers to help make 2008 a safer year than we had during 2007,” said WTSC director Lowell Porter said.
Damon Mattozzi had turned 21 just before the July 18, 1999, crash. He had been drinking heavily that day at a bar and later had an altercation with friends before trying to make it home, said Darren Mattozzi.
That night, Darren and their mother, Katherine Mattozzi, were driving home when they passed an ambulance going the other way. “I guess it was a mother’s instinct. I think she kind of knew. She just started crying,” Mattozzi said.
At the crash scene, the truck was barely visible below the roadway. But mother and son stopped and asked if Damon was involved. “They said, ‘Yes. You need to get to the hospital because he’s not going to make it.’ My mother started pulling her hair and screaming. She kind of lost it.”
They sped to the hospital.
“When I arrived, the first thing I saw was a chaplain, so I knew we were in trouble,” Mattozzi said.
After doctors informed the family that Damon was brain dead, they unplugged the machines July 19 and he died. Until recently, the family had been holding ceremonies each July 18. Some people have asked the family to remove the twisted hulk, saying enough time had passed.
But the wrecked truck still gets visits from driver’s education classes, notes to Damon and trinkets.
It also serves as a motivational pitch for Mattozzi, who works as substance abuse and violence prevention coordinator for Lincoln County.
“His death prompted me … to dedicate my life to this field. It’s a constant reminder that drunk driving is 100 percent preventable,” he said. “That’s why we will never move it, because it is such a powerful thing.”
Bridge closures coming
Commuters should be aware of nighttime closures at four locations.
Starting Sunday night, construction crews began closing eastbound lanes of the Trent Bridge just east of Hamilton Street for maintenance and minor repairs.
They will again close both eastbound lanes from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. Wednesday, said Melanie Coon, of the state Department of Transportation.
In addition to the Trent Bridge, two lanes of westbound Interstate 90 at Havana Street will close from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Monday and Tuesday for bridge repairs, Coon said.
Farther west, crews will close two lanes of westbound I-90 at the Latah Creek Bridge during the same time on Wednesday night for repairs, she said.
Also this week, crews will close two eastbound lanes of I-90 in the Perry Curves, at mile post 282, from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday to repair bridge-expansion joints. The same closure will also occur Sunday, Coon said.
Officials have begun Commute Smart, a program designed to encourage downtown commuters to use alternate forms of transportation.
Commute Smart runs through May 31, said Ron Kusler, who helped organize the effort.
A series of rewards, such as $50 gift cards, are available for those who sign up and complete a number of commutes through alternate means, such as walking, biking or busing.
Pines work progressing
Commuters have responded well to slowdowns that started last week in the project to relieve congestion at the interchange of Pines Road and Interstate 90.
“It appears that folks are noticing that construction is going on and finding alternative routes,” Spokane Valley spokeswoman Carolbelle Branch said. “It’s going slow, but we are not having the traffic snarl that we expected.
The project will change the way westbound drivers enter and exit I-90 at Pines. As a result, freeway ramps at the north end of the overpass will be closed and traffic redirected to modified ramps at Montgomery Drive and Indiana Avenue, Branch said. Eastbound traffic along Montgomery will be rerouted onto Mansfield Avenue by a new roundabout at Montgomery and Wilbur Road.
Beginning last week, Pines Road was reduced to one lane in each direction weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through mid-October. Drivers should expect delays and are encouraged to use alternate routes. For more information go to www.spokanevalley.org
Sewer snarls continue
Work continues to install sewers in Spokane Valley neighborhoods that surround Evergreen and Sullivan Roads, said Paul Lennemann, construction engineer for Spokane County.
The road closures have made it difficult for commuters to head south from North Forker Road, which becomes Evergreen Road north of Wellesley Avenue, he said.
“I’m going to open Evergreen up Tuesday morning. That same day, I’m going to close Progress (Road) from Wellesley (Avenue) to Trent (Avenue) and Progress from Wellesley to Sullivan” Road, he said.
“We are trying to get Wellesley paved before school starts. After that, we will have some local access streets that will still be closed.”