GRAND ISLAND, N.Y. — Two feet from death: that’s how retired thruway employee Peter Szymanowicz described the July 2019 crash that could have left him and a coworker seriously injured — or worse.

“If it wasn’t for the dispatcher when I was in there, calling a possible deer accident, I wouldn’t have gotten out of the truck,” he said. “I would have still been sitting in there and I would have died.”

Szymanowicz was one of several speakers Monday at a press conference held by the New York State Thruway Authority to promote National Work Zone Awareness Week at the Grand Island Welcome Center.

His harrowing account of escaping death by just minutes is a reminder to motorists to exercise cautions in work zones.

“Actually, my foot was probably standing right here and I was hanging onto the tailgate, which is gone now, and I stepped off it and as I stepped off it, the truck hit right here,” he said. “This is where he came in sideways and hit the truck.”

Data from the National Safety Council revealed that in 2019, the same year a tractor-trailer smashed into this truck, 842 people were killed and more than 39,000 were injured in work zone crashes nationwide.

Szymanowicz says this wasn’t the only brush with danger he had on the job during his 40-year career, but it was the most horrifying, both because of the severity of the crash, and because he never learned what caused the driver of the trailer to collide into his vehicle.

“He had a dash camera, but the thing is, because nobody got hurt, they weren’t allowed to use it,” said Szymanowicz. “I would’ve loved to see that; I would’ve seen the fear on my face when I turned and there he was, but...”

Using his experience as a cautionary tale, Szymanowicz warns drivers to be careful and attentive on the road, because you never know what can change in a split second.

“When you don’t pay attention, a little slip up — you turn the radio on, you go into the work zone, you grab your phone, you look on your dash, you’re in the work zone and all of a sudden, you hit somebody and it’s over,” said Szymanowicz.