The State Worker

His dad died working on a California highway. Now he works for Caltrans, too.

How Interstate 5 altered the landscape of Sacramento

Take a look back at the development, construction and opening of Interstate 5, the freeway that transformed downtown Sacramento. Photos are from the Center for Sacramento History - taken by Bee photographers - and the Caltrans archives.
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Take a look back at the development, construction and opening of Interstate 5, the freeway that transformed downtown Sacramento. Photos are from the Center for Sacramento History - taken by Bee photographers - and the Caltrans archives.

Ryan Stiltz feels a little closer to a dad he didn’t know every year when he attends a memorial to fallen California highway workers on the Capitol steps.

His dad, Perry, was killed by an errant driver on Route 29 in 1973, when Ryan was about 1. Decades later, he followed his dad into Caltrans and now works for the department as a senior bridge engineer.

“The only memory I have of him – no memories, really – but the stories my family shared and the photos I’ve seen, and this memorial I’ve attended every year since I began working at Caltrans nearly 20 years ago,” Stiltz of Napa said as his voice cracked in short remarks to a crowd of Caltrans workers and family members on Thursday.

The annual event recognizes the 188 California highway workers who’ve been killed at work since 1921. This year’s ceremony paid special attention to toll collector Si Si Han and steel structural paint supervisor Annette Brooks, both of whom were killed at work in 2017.

Han, 46, died the morning of Dec. 2 when a box truck slammed into her booth on the Bay Bridge. The truck driver, Daniel Berk, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and is expected to appear in court next week.

Brooks, 61, was shot to death at work a year ago by Terry Hayse, a 12-year colleague of hers at a Caltrans site in Humboldt County.

Caltrans Director Laurie Berman noted that Han was called “the light of the Bay Bridge because she was always smiling.”

Brooks was survived by five siblings. Their parents named them in such a way that their first initials follow the alphabet sequentially, from A to F.

“Our alphabet will never be the same. By His grace, B, C, D, E & F,” they wrote in a program for the memorial.

Several speakers at this year’s memorial looked ahead to a rush of new highway maintenance projects that are expected to be funded by a new gas tax. The tax is expected to generate about $5.4 billion for transportation projects each year for the next decade.

“It means a lot more workers on the road. That means, drivers, you have to pay even more attention,” Berman said.

Stiltz said he could tell his dad was proud to work for Caltrans by the way his grandparents described his drive to work for the department. "Here we are, 45 years later, and I am proud to be a part of the Caltrans family as we honor all 188 of" the fallen workers, Stiltz said.

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