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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County fined by state over injury to volunteer who was directing traffic

Spokane County is receiving $90 million in federal aid to help offset costs related to the coronavirus pandemic. A task force will help determine how the money should be spent. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane County is receiving $90 million in federal aid to help offset costs related to the coronavirus pandemic. A task force will help determine how the money should be spent. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County is appealing a $2,100 fine assessed after a volunteer was hit by a vehicle while directing traffic at a memorial in August for a fallen sheriff’s deputy.

According to a report from the state Department of Labor and Industries, the volunteer was hit while directing traffic in the middle of a four-way-stop intersection. The state fined Spokane County because flaggers should stand in a conspicuous area on the shoulder of the road, never in the path of traffic. The state also said the county should have provided more flaggers or other ways to control traffic so workers are not injured on the job.

The Spokane County Commission voted unanimously last week to appeal the fine. .

Steve Bartel, the county’s risk management director, said the worker is a longtime volunteer for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office volunteer program called SCOPE, which has a graffiti task force, operates the front desk at the sheriff’s office, directs traffic during events and crashes, and helps out with other duties.

The volunteer was directing traffic near the site of a roadside memorial erected in August to honor Spokane County Deputy James Slater, who was killed in a crash in 2003. While directing traffic for the unveiling, the volunteer was hit by a trailer that was being pulled by a truck, which knocked him to the ground. Others realized he had hit his head when he fell, and he was taken to a hospital. He was released the next day with a minor abrasion to the head. Spokane County, which insures its volunteers, paid for his medical expenses.

County Commissioner Al French said the county was appealing the fine because it wanted to avoid setting a precedent for L&I citations under more stringent regulations related to construction traffic control.

He said L&I fines would increase significantly if the county is cited a second time for a similar issue, and volunteers who are directing traffic for community events shouldn’t fall under the same rules as construction site flaggers.

“If we don’t try and fix it, it’ll continue so at some point, you’ve got to say the (regulations) they used to make this citation don’t apply,” he said. “If we don’t make a stand, they’ll never fix it.”

Bartel said if volunteers are treated as construction flaggers, the county may no longer be able to offer the same assistance to events as it has in the past.

“It would require more resources from the sheriff’s department and limit our ability to help out at these events that aren’t collisions or emergencies, which would be kind of a travesty,” he said.

He said since that incident the county also has updated its training, and volunteers or employees should not be in the road when directing traffic.

“We can train, and we can emphasize, but sometimes things happen,” he said.

Tim Church, a spokesman for L&I, said Spokane County’s citation was considered a midlevel violation because an employee was in danger. Now that the county has appealed, the state can review the citation, or it can be reviewed by an outside agency.

Some violations also are settled without a fine or court involvement.

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