Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
A New Mexico Department of Transportation employee was killed Monday morning while she and DOT crews replaced reflectors on a newly resurfaced stretch of U.S. 285 north of Artesia.
Mittie Runyan, 58, died after her DOT pickup, with emergency lights flashing, was struck from behind by a Peterbilt commercial motor vehicle pulling a tanker trailer. According to State Police reports, Runyan’s pickup was in the right lane of southbound U.S. 285 near milepost 82 when the commercial truck rear-ended her, pushing her vehicle into a second DOT pickup.
Two DOT employees who were working out of the back of the second pickup were able to jump into the bed of the truck as the accident occurred. They sustained injuries and were transported to area hospitals. Their conditions were not known. The driver of that pickup was uninjured.
Runyan, of Artesia, suffered severe injuries and was airlifted from the scene to a hospital in Lubbock, where she was later pronounced dead. The 45-year-old driver of the commercial truck was uninjured and will not be named unless charges are filed, State Police said.
Runyan had worked for DOT for more than 21 years.
“This painful loss will reverberate statewide,” state Transportation Secretary Mike Sandoval said. “We are a close-knit group and we all grieve when we lose one of our own. Our deepest condolences go out to Mittie’s family.”
State Police Chief Tim Johnson said in a statement that he is saddened by the tragedy. His officers, he said, have a close working relationship with NMDOT crews, who “place their lives on the line every day while working to keep the roads in New Mexico a safe place” for all travelers.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also offered her condolences to Runyan’s family. In a Tuesday evening Twitter posting, she said, “My prayers are with the family of beloved @NMDOT employee Mittie Runyan, who was tragically killed in a roadway accident in Chaves County yesterday. My thoughts are also with the two NMDOT employees who were injured, and I wish them a speedy recovery.”
Under New Mexico’s Move Over Law, drivers approaching emergency vehicles that have flashing lights must change lanes or slow down to allow a safety margin of separation between them, and vehicles and crews working on the roadway. The law also applies to disabled motorists who have activated their vehicle’s emergency flashers.