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‘Beltline Bob’ urges drivers to be safe, lawmakers weigh bill to protect responders

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MADISON (WKOW) - The deaths of a firefighter and a police officer in Texas, who were hit by a speeding car, are a reminder of the goal of a new bill aiming to keep those who help their communities safer on the job.

David Eric Hill and Officer Nicholas Reyna were responding to a car crash on an icy interstate Saturday in Lubbock, Texas when they were hit and killed.

It's that kind of tragedy Wisconsin lawmakers are hoping to prevent, by increasing penalties for traffic violations when crews are out working.

"I would like to go home at the end of my shift," said Dane County Deputy Eric Novotny. "I'm trying to help somebody who needs help. And it's not too hard to ask people to respect what I'm doing out there."

Deputy Novotny is one of two deputies who respond to 350 to 500 calls every month on the Beltline.

"It's almost instantaneous. When something happens, even if it's on the shoulder, there's an immediate effect of reduced traffic flow," Novotny said.

But the deputies, known as 'Beltline Bob', in their attention-grabbing truck, wind up putting themselves at risk on every call for a disabled vehicle or crash.

"This truck has been hit five times with its lights on and somebody has run into us," he said.

But a bill introduced last month aims to help protect responders like Novotny, creating an emergency response area during an incident, where cell phones are banned and fines double for speeding, reckless driving, and other traffic violations. If passed, the law would mirror rules for construction zones.

It's all to reinforce the state's Move Over Law, which Novotny says isn't being followed right now.

"I have to put [the sign board] up sometimes even to get out of my vehicle because people are just whizzing by," he said. "I've had to jump over barriers jump back behind the corner on my vehicle. Spring, fall, winter ... It doesn't matter on which season it is."

Firefighters and other responders have been working for months to urge lawmakers to put together this bill, including ones who've lost or nearly lost crew members in highway crashes. 

WQOW Staff

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