PennDOT sued over ditch at issue in fatal motorcycle wreck

Pennsylvania’s transportation agency dug a ditch and didn't tell anyone, and it cost a motorcyclist her life, the victim's family says in a new civil lawsuit.

Leslie Gingrich, a mother of three who was training to get her commercial driver’s license, was riding her Harley to class along a narrow, twisty state highway in early June when she hit a ditch left by a PennDOT crew weeks earlier. She had no warning and no chance to avoid it, her family says.

PennDOT "ignored the danger" it created and put Gingrich and many other motorists at risk, attorney Albert Evans, who filed the suit on behalf of Gingrich’s children, said Friday in a phone interview. The family is seeking unspecified money damages.

A message was sent to PennDOT seeking comment.

PennDOT had dug up that section of road while replacing a drainage pipe under State Route 895 near Auburn, in Schuylkill County. The crew backfilled the cutout but did not pave it, and the gravel subsequently washed out, residents have said.

Residents also said PennDOT knew about the hazard — which worsened over time — but did nothing to fix it. Nor did the agency place signage warning approaching motorists of the cutout.

The 7- to 10-foot wide ditch spanned both lanes of the road and had a very uneven surface, with a lip of about 2 inches. It was at the base of a small hill and shaded by trees, hidden from view.

Gingrich hit it going about 35 mph in a 40 mph zone and lost control, the family said in their suit. She wasn’t wearing a helmet, though Evans has said she suffered unrelated internal injuries.

After the crash, PennDOT said it was investigating the work done at the site "to determine if all policies and procedures were followed." It’s unclear if that review was completed. The agency has declined comment since being put on notice it was being sued over the crash.

The wrongful-death suit, which was filed Thursday in Schuylkill County Court, alleges PennDOT was negligent by failing to install appropriate signage, by leaving the construction unfinished for so long, and by failing to address complaints it had received about the site before the fatal wreck.

A crew returned to pave over the ditch soon after Gingrich's death.

"It was something that could have been completed very quickly," Evans said. "It should have been completed well before Ms. Gingrich was exposed to it."