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Residents said they noticed bridge rail problem long before fatal accident

ST. LOUIS – Fox 2/KPLR 11 has looked into possible bridge dangers and what can be done about those dangers following Monday’s fatal bridge crash.

Earlier this week, a car hit a bridge column and part of the rail fell onto Jan Torrisi-Mokwa, who died when a one-ton block crushed her car. It may have fallen onto the roadway below because of an old bridge design that allows vehicles to snag. Crash video from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute shows what safety experts say should happen on impact.

“The first and foremost purpose of the rail is to contain and safely redirect the vehicle,” said research engineer William Williams.

Williams did not make a judgment about what may have caused Monday’s incident, but he did look at pictures of the bridge rails on Lindell and said the corners could snag a vehicle. Modern rails are designed to redirect a car.

“Ideally, (it should operate) like a billiard ball,” he said.

A viewer sent Fox 2/KPLR 11 a picture from 2012, where you can see a truck that knocked part of bridge rail onto Forest Park Parkway. Residents said another recent crash sent a railing tumbling onto the ground near the MetroLink tracks.

“We see it day in and day out,” said Chris Sommers. “I even videotape it day in and day out.”

Sommers’ surveillance camera captured the burning aftermath of a crash in September 2016. He said he told city leaders to do something about the bridge or someone would die.

“They know they have some liability here because they were warned and they had all the data and they refused to do something about it,” he said.

The man in charge of repairing and replacing bridges said the Lindell overpass bridge is safe.

“The rail did its job. The railing on a bridge is to keep pedestrians or a vehicle from leaving the deck,” said Richard Bradley, president of the Board of Public Service. “It absolutely did that. If it didn’t do its job, the white vehicle that was on top of the deck would have been on the roadway below.”

Bradley said the bridge was built in 1961 to the standards at that time.

“More or less a gravity-type installation. The block that was moved and fell onto the car below weighed about 2,700 pounds. The railing was made out of stone and so it was a very heavy installation.”

Sommers said he believes the city could’ve taken different actions long ago, such as reducing lanes or adding other measures to slow traffic.

“This bridge is going to be expensive and they knew that was going to be expensive, but calming the traffic and keeping people safe is not expensive,” he said.

At present, concrete barriers cover the openings in the Lindell bridge, but the corners are still exposed where a vehicle can get snagged. Sommers wrote city leaders last July recommending specific changes that would get people to drive slower on the old bridge.