WATERTOWN, Wis. — Six months after losing most of his left leg when a car pinned him against his garbage truck, Mark Friend said Monday seeing Gov. Scott Walker sign a new law doubling fines for traffic offenses around sanitation workers makes everything he went through worth it.
A car rammed into Friend in January while he was working his job depositing trash in Stoughton. He was in a coma for two weeks, spent two months in the hospital and has had 29 surgeries to date with at least one more expected.
But Friend made sure to be there Monday to watch Walker sign into law a bill that treats waste haulers the same as highway construction and maintenance workers, doubling traffic fines or forfeitures for people who speed or drive recklessly near garbage trucks.
Friend advocated for the law change last summer, before his accident. And he continued the push during his recovery after the January accident. The Legislature passed the bill unanimously earlier this year. On Monday, sitting in front of two garbage trucks and with Friend by his side, Walker signed it into law at a park in Watertown, near where Friend lives in Ixonia.
"It makes everything I've gone through worth it," Friend said, surrounded by his wife, family members and sanitation co-workers. "If I can save one life, it's worth every bit."
Friend, a 37-year-old former Marine, rose from his wheelchair to shake Walker's hand as he greeted him before the bill signing. Friend said he can only walk about 300 feet a day on his prosthetic leg. His right leg was also severely injured in the accident.
Walker helped wheel Friend in front of the garbage trucks where he signed the bill. The new law takes effect immediately.
Walker said motorists understand they need to slow down in construction zones, so he hopes publicity over the new law, which includes signs on garbage trucks that say "Slow Down to Get Around," will cause people to be more cautious around sanitation workers.
"The whole point of it really was awareness," said Jagler, the bill's sponsor.
Waste Management will be putting signs on all 75 of its trucks that operate in Madison, said the company's district manager, Jeff Wilson.
The National Solid Wastes Management Association said four to eight collection workers are killed by cars each year while on the job. The group started a national safety awareness campaign in 2004 after an Ohio waste collector was killed by a car and another was severely hurt in a separate crash.
Nearly all states have laws that require drivers to give way or slow down for parked police, fire or emergency vehicles with flashing lights.
Wisconsin joins a growing list of states, which also includes Michigan and Ohio, that are passing similar laws designed to protect garbage haulers, said Peggy Macenas, regional manager for the National Solid Wastes Management Association.
Friend said he hopes the law will prevent others from being injured.
"To be protected is all we're asking for," he said. "It's a thankless job."