As a female heavy equipment operator for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Shirley Samuelson was part of a relatively exclusive club.
Samuelson, 62, was one of only six women operating heavy equipment — think snowplows and street sweepers — in District 3, which spans Teton, Sublette, Uinta, Sweetwater and Lincoln counties, when she was killed on the job Monday, according to figures provided by WYDOT public information officer Stephanie Harsha.
But though Samuelson told the News&Guide in January that she was the only woman with Jackson WYDOT and the first ever on the maintenance crew, working on a male-dominated crew was just business as usual.
“It’s been good,” Samuelson said in that January interview. “The crew has treated me really well.
“There’s no him or her — we just work together as a team.”
Samuelson died Monday when she got out of her street sweeper on Highway 22 on Teton Pass, just west of Coal Creek, to speak with a fellow WYDOT employee, and the street sweeper rolled downhill and ran over her, according to Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Matt Brackin. He said Samuelson sustained severe head and chest trauma. The man she was talking to was able to get out of the way and was uninjured, Brackin said.
It wasn’t immediately known Monday following the accident why the street sweeper, which Brackin said is equipped with an emergency braking system, rolled downhill and struck Samuelson.
“Being a female heavy equipment operator is somewhat rare to begin with, so she was part of a very special group,” Harsha said Tuesday. “And it takes a very strong, smart woman to do that kind of work.”
Bruce Daigle, Samuelson’s supervisor on the maintenance crew, said she was “a genuine, nice person” who enjoyed chatting with her co-workers. Additionally, Samuelson’s three-plus decades of operating heavy equipment — November would have been the end of her third year with WYDOT — was a valuable asset to Daigle and the crew, he said. Daigle noted that last year he entrusted Samuelson with plowing the pass, one of the most challenging areas to plow due to the severe weather.
“She took that on — I was kind of short-handed and adjusted people, and I put her up there,” Daigle said. “She was a little nervous at first, but she grew accustomed to it, and she did a really good job for us up there.” Not having her around anymore is “going to be a shame. ... She will be missed, that’s for sure.”
Daigle said he believes Samuelson leaves behind two sons, one of whom occasionally worked in the valley and stayed with her when he was here.
“She took care of her family well,” he said. “She was just an all-around neat gal. And for being 62, she would get out there and work with the guys, right alongside of them.”
Harsha also lamented Samuelson’s loss, noting the unique presence she brought to her crew and the department.
“We’ll definitely miss her, and we’ll definitely miss the contributions she made to the WYDOT family as a whole,” Harsha said.