photo by: carri graham
A portion of Ohio 800 in the village has been dedicated in honor of Steven Cook, a longtime resident and former employee of the Shelly Company who was fatally struck by an impaired and distracted driver while working in an active work zone in 2017 in Columbus.
Cook’s family, friends, former coworkers and local officials gathered at the site along Ohio 800, located around 4 miles off of Interstate 70 exit 202, for the dedication ceremony on Friday morning when a sign was unveiled.
Linda Cook, Steven Cook’s widow, sobbed as she watched the cover being removed from the sign, which reads: “Steven Lowell Cook Memorial Highway.” Having the 1-mile portion of roadway dedicated to her beloved husband her has been something she has worked for the past four years.
“My persistence paid off. He deserves it, he was a great man. It’s such an honor to see that up there, and the future generations are going to know who Steve Cook is because that sign is not going anywhere. I’m very proud,” she said.
At around 1:50 am Sept. 30, 2017, Linda Cook said, she received the tragic call from her informing her about the accident.
“We agreed to Columbus to one of the hospitals and found out at the point that Steve had died. What happened was that the driver went through a blocked zone on I-70 west of Columbus. The driver was driving between 60 and 70 mph in a blocked zone and killed Steve on impact,” she said, adding that the driver who struck Steven was found with open alcohol containers and tested positive for drugs; the individual was also texting at the time of the deadly collision.
The couple lived in Barnesville while Steven worked out of town for his job.
Linda Cook said she has tried to turn the tragedy into something positive by helping to spread awareness. She said she gives speeches with LECET, a partnership between the Laborers’ District Council of Ohio and the Ohio Contractors Association, to spread public awareness.
“We try to make people aware that there are human beings out there on the roads working, and they want to go home to their families just like everybody else. They’re just out there doing their job. They do their job in the heat, rain, cold, in all elements, so we just need to give them a break,” she said, adding that her slogan is “slow down, save a life.”
Cook said the roadway sign means a great deal and hopes it will remind people to drive cautiously.
A few speakers addressed attendees during the ceremony including Ohio Sen. Frank Hoagland. Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, spoke about Steven Cook’s hard work and dedication to his job, and highlighted the importance of the memorial dedication.
“What you do on a daily basis, those of you that go out – I know I mess around with the ODOT guys all the time – how important this is. Without mobility and communications, our little towns are going to end up being nothing. When you show up to work and you do your job every day, you’re making an improvement not only to a road that law enforcement drives on every day, that our school buses with our school kids drive on every day, our EMS and firefighters are on these roads every day, and how important that is to make sure that we have reliable mobility,” he said.
Bethany Billi, executive director of LECET, said the roadway dedication is special, as such honors are typically reserved for first responders. Friday’s dedication is the first in the state to be done in honor of a roadway worker.
“Linda (Cook) worked really hard for 4.5 years to get the state route dedicated to Steve. It normally goes to veterans, firefighters or police officers. He (Steven Cook) is the only construction worker in Ohio to have a highway named after him,” she said.
Billi stressed the need for drivers to pay attention when operating a vehicle in a work zone.
“Slow down and move over. Our members are out working to make the roads safer for everyone, and they just want to get home to their friends and family at the end of the day. Pay attention, slow down and move over when you’re in a work zone,” she added.
John Kistler, business manager of Laborers 134, was in the union with Steven Cook. He said the memorial was fitting, as Cook was an everyday hero.
Lt. Maurice Waddell, commander of the Ohio State Highway Patrol St. Clairsville Post, said the dedication is an opportunity to honor Steven Cook.
“It’s something that we deal with too frequently. Traffic safety is everybody’s responsibility. It’s the first responders that are out there on the roadway, the motorists that are on the roadway, the road workers. Safety is the priority, and that’s what we strive for every day. We urge motorists to put down the distractions, don’t drive impaired and simply buckle up and pay close attention when you’re in a work zone,” he said. “You just never know. In a split second, you can change somebody’s life.”