At some of the newer toll plazas, Bill Pappas could have used the tunnel under the Massachusetts Turnpike to reach the tollbooth building, where collectors take their breaks.
But at interchange 10 in Auburn, where Pappas worked, collectors have to make their way lane by lane across the highway.
Shortly after midnight Friday, Pappas, 61, was fatally struck by a car as he crossed the E-ZPass lane. Robert Cullinane, the head of Teamsters Local 127, which represents toll collectors and other state transportation workers, said Pappas had left his booth to take a break.
Pappas, who lived in Holden, was a friendly, well-liked man who got along with his coworkers, Cullinane said. He had worked as a toll collector for eight years.
“No matter who you talk to, they’d say Bill was a great guy,” Cullinane said. “He got along with everybody.”
State Police are investigating the accident to determine whether the driver of the 2010 Toyota Tacoma was speeding. The driver, a 31-year-old man from Charlton, pulled over after the accident, and showed no signs of impairment. He was not injured and has not been charged.
A 15-mile-per-hour speed limit is in effect through the E-ZPass toll lanes, but Cullinane said it is rarely enforced, making it dangerous for collectors to cross the road.
“It’s like playing dodgeball,” Cullinane said. Pappas had to cross seven lanes to reach the building, he said.
Thomas Tinlin, highway administrator for the state transportation department, said Pappas’s death was a terrible tragedy.
“The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the MassDOT family go out to our colleague’s family, friends, and loved ones,” said. “In light of this sad event, it is important to remind people that toll plazas are staffed around the clock, all year round, and drivers should approach toll booths as if someone they love and care about is working there.”
The last fatal accident involving a toll collector in Massachusetts took place in 1999, according to Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state transportation department.
The procedure for a worker exiting a toll booth is to turn on a white bulb that indicates the booth is empty, place a traffic cone in the middle of the lane, and watch for traffic before crossing, Verseckes said. It was not immediately clear whether Pappas had followed this procedure.
Pappas was rushed to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, where he died a short time later. Three lanes of the highway were closed after the accident, but because of the early hour, traffic did not back up.
In 2013, state officials unveiled a plan to replace all tollbooths on the Turnpike with all-electronic tolls. The conversion, which is expected to be complete by mid- to late 2016, will save the state an estimated $50 million. Most of the state’s 400 toll collectors will lose their jobs.