Joe Bartkowski died doing something he loved: driving a big rig.
“Truck driving was pretty much in his blood,” said his widow, Sharon Bartkowski, 68, of Sumner, choking back tears. “He loved the open road.”
In November, Bartkowski veered off the road to avoid hitting other motorists involved in a wreck that was caused by a drunken driver on Interstate 5 near Federal Way, his wife said. The double-tanker was filled with aviation fuel; he died instantly in the fiery crash.
Gov. Jay Inslee shared Bartkowski’s story during Tuesday’s Worker Memorial Day service at the state Department of Labor & Industries, describing him as a hero.
“He made a decision that ended up losing his life, and saving others on the roadway,” Inslee said.
The service honored 66 people who died in 2012 from workplace injuries or accidents in Washington state. They included National Park Rangers Margaret Anderson and Nicholas Hall, who lost their lives in Mount Rainier National Park, and Washington State Patrol trooper Tony Radulescu, who was shot and killed while making a traffic stop on state Route 16 near Gorst in February 2012.
Almost 400 people attended the solemn ceremony, including family members and friends of the dead, L&I employees, state legislators, and representatives from business and labor.
The event was a chance to honor fallen workers and recommit to the agency’s mission of protecting people from job-related injuries, said L&I director Joel Sacks.
“We can never lose sight of the fact that behind each investigation is a real person,” Sacks said. “...(They were) people just like you and me. They didn’t know that going to work – something we all do every day – could end their lives.”
Causes of death varied from occupational disease and drowning to electrocution and homicide. They included 10 motor vehicle wrecks, 10 falls, eight construction-related accidents and seven fatalities in the agriculture industry, according to L&I spokeswoman Elaine Fischer.
The number of worker deaths was down last year from 69 in 2011, and 92 the year prior. But the number is still too high, Sacks said.
“Even if you could bring the number down to one person, it would be one too many,” he said.
Sarah Prout, 31, of Walla Walla, attended the event to honor her father, Bob Brown, a refrigeration engineer who died in May after falling from a lift that was stuck 50-feet in the air at a cold storage facility in Fife.
“He put everything he had into his job,” she said. “He was a workaholic.”
And just like Bartkowski, “he died doing what he loved,” Prout said.Lisa Pemberton: 36-754-5433 firstname.lastname@example.org @Lisa_Pemberton