Last week was a tough one for Modern Waste employees after a friend and co-worker was killed while working in Columbia Township September 18.
Justin David Pratt, 27, died from injuries suffered after the garbage truck he was working from was rear-ended at around 7:50 a.m. by a Ford F-150 driven by Kenneth George Eggleston, 55, of Brooklyn. Pratt was working in the rear of the vehicle and was pinned between the two trucks until first responders were able to free him.
Eggleston told police he was blinded by the sun. He was hauling a small pop-up camper and hit the garbage truck hard enough that it buckled the F-150.
Pratt survived the trip to the hospital and several hours of surgery but eventually succumbed to the injuries. He left behind a wife and two children, aged 1 and 3 years old.
It was a shocking event for Modern Waste co-workers.
“I was crying at the emergency room with the family,” said Phil Duckham, president of Modern Waste. “It was devastating,” he said, adding that the gravity of the situation blanketed the entire company.
“Modern [Waste] has been a very low-key operation this week, everybody going about their work and not talking.”
Duckham said the incident shook him so bad that “I feel like it was partly my fault.”
It was not, according to the state. As per procedure, Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials were contacted and were on the scene hours after the crash. They temporarily impounded the garbage truck, and all of the safety equipment and flashing lights were found to be in proper working order.
“He did everything right,” said Duckham of the way Pratt was performing his job at the time of the crash.“The truck was parked in the right way. All the flashers were on. The safety gear was on.”
“It is a dangerous job.”
Employees at Modern Waste are informed of this when they hire in. Duckham noted that trucks have been rear-ended in a similar fashion “four or five times in the past five years. So has Emmons [Service]. It happens,” he said. “It was just a matter of when someone was going to be standing there when it happened. That is where they go when they get out of the truck.”
Operating the big trucks is not easy. Drivers must have a commercial driver’s license and go through drug screening and background checks.
Once they are hired, they go through a two-week training period with a supervisor or seasoned driver to learn the ropes.
“I don’t know what we can do different, other than get the laws improved for roadside workers and let people know they have to get over for them, give them room, maybe reduce their speed by 50 percent,” he said.
Duckham described Pratt as a hard-working former Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan.
“He was a great guy. Everybody liked him. We did not have any trouble with him.”
Unfortunately, Pratt was only four days from qualifying for $35,000 of company-provided life insurance.
Pratt’s funeral was held Sunday.
Columbia Township Police Chief David Elwell said that drugs and alcohol do not appear to be factors in the crash. Michigan State Police assisted with an accident reconstruction. Upon completion, the report will be forwarded to the Jackson County Prosecutor for review.