MICHIGAN CITY – After an SUV became trapped on the Franklin Street Bridge last Friday afternoon, the driver said the gates started going down behind him as he drove onto the structure.
But Michigan City Police say a review of video from the incident tells a different story, and the driver ignored warnings not to drive onto the bridge.
"The driver attempted to cross the bridge while the crossing arm was coming down with flashing lights activated," MCPD Chief of Operations Kevin Urbanczyk said.
No one was injured in the incident, which occurred just before 4 p.m. on the south side of the bridge, according to Tony Drzewiecki, spokesman for the Michigan CIty Fire Department, which was notified of a vehicle “stuck on the lower ramp of the bridge and possibly on fire."
It turned out there was not fire, but, “The vehicle was still on the bridge when it opened and became impaled on the lower section of the bridge, and wedged between the road and the bridge,” Drzewiecki said.
The driver, Charles Weitzel of Oberlin, Ohio, told The News-Dispatch his GMC Arcadia was already on the bridge structure when the warning gates went down.
“I started across the bridge and the warning arms came down behind me,” he said at the scene as a fork lift was brought into place to remove the vehicle, which had become wedged between bridge decking and roadway.
Weitzel said he thought about speeding up to cross the bridge then noticed it was rising.
“I tried to back up, but it was too late,” he said. “The truck got wedged in there and then I couldn’t go forward anymore."
Urbanczyk said the video from the bridge is clear.
"The alarm and flashing lights on the crossing arms were activated prior to the vehicle driving under the crossing arms as they were lowering," he said.
"There was no one in front of the driver when he stopped on the bridge. The driver attempted to back up, but was unable to since the crossing arms were down. The bridge deck began to rise and the driver tried several times to accelerate forward in an attempt to cross," he said.
"The bridge deck continued to rise with the vehicle still on it. The angle became too steep, which caused the rear of the vehicle to become wedged between the bridge deck and roadway."
Michigan City Police Chief Mark Swistek called the incident an “unfortunate” accident, adding, “We were very fortunate that it was only a property damage accident. It was very fortunate for the family that no one was in the rear of the vehicle.”
Weitzel questioned why the bridge operator did not warn him, but witnesses at the scene said he did.
One man said the bridge operator “yelled at them [the Weitzels] to stop several times but they kept going as the gates came down.”
Another woman said the driver seemed to “ignore several commands to stop.”
Urbanczyk said there is no audio so he could not confirm that the driver was verbally warned to stop.
"I can’t confirm if the bridge operator was yelling at the driver to go back," he said. "There is no audio from inside or outside of the bridge operator tower."
However, he said, "The operator used a PA system to alert pedestrians in the area not to cross the gates."
Swistek said no citations will be issued, and Urbanczyk said police continue to investigate.