Columbia bridge crash in January might have been deliberate

ccope@thestate.comMarch 12, 2014 

— Toxicology reports in the January Blossom Street bridge crash that killed two people in January revealed the driver had been drinking and that both passengers had marijuana in their systems.

Police investigators, meanwhile, think the wreck in downtown Columbia might have been intentional.

The driver, Denzel Whyatt Jr., had a blood-alcohol content of .127 percent, according to Richland County Coroner Gary Watts. That is higher than the .08 percent that is considered legal evidence of intoxication. Watts said there were traces of marijuana in Whyatt’s system. The passenger, Shannon Y. Mickens of West Columbia, also had evidence of recent marijuana use, Watts said.

Whyatt, 35, was driving the 1999 Ford Explorer, Watts said. Columbia police said the vehicle was traveling west toward Cayce when it swerved, went through the bridge railing around 9:40 p.m. and plunged into the Congaree River.

Mickens, 40, was pulled from the river while the vehicle was still in the water and transported to Palmetto Health Richland hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 11:16 p.m.

Whyatt was found in the vehicle after it was pulled from the chilly waters. He was pronounced dead at the scene around 1:30 a.m.

The Columbia Police Department is in the final stages of investigating the cause of the fatal wreck, spokesperson Jennifer Timmons, wrote in an emailed statement.

“Based on the results of the investigation, it is the opinion of traffic investigators that the incident may have been a deliberate act,” Timmons said. “Investigators are unable to clearly determine which occupant contributed to the tragic event.”

She would not give specific details about what led investigators to come to that conclusion.

The day after the crash, crews with the South Carolina Department of Transportation worked to put up a guard rail as a fix for the gap in the bridge’s railing caused by the crash.

With the guard rail, the bridge is safe for traffic and pedestrians, Lee Floyd, S.C. DOT state bridge maintenance engineer, said at the time.

The original railing has been on the bridge since it was constructed in 1953. The DOT said the bridge has undergone two rehabilitations since it was built. One was in the mid-1980s. The second was a painting and beautification project in the 1990s.

The almost 60-year-old Blossom Street bridge is older than the average age of South Carolina state-owned bridges, which is 43 years.

Floyd said the Blossom Street bridge was inspected the month before the crash and deemed in decent condition.

The last major incident on the bridge occurred in 2008, when 19-year-old cyclist Jesse Gamble died after being hit while riding home from work in a bridge bike lane. The lane was renamed Jesse’s Way in his honor.

 

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