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Family pleads for bridge repair

Family members of the late Ryan ‘Hoot’ Wilson, who died after a fatal wreck in which his truck flipped from a bridge on Buffington Road, asked commissioners to name the bridge after him and to repair the bridge at the Nov. 14 meeting. ’We’re asking that the bridge be named after our cousin who was killed exactly one month ago today on that bridge,’ said Wilson’s cousin Kim Irby. ‘We’d also like to ask if guard rails can be installed or if anything else can be done to the bridge to make it safer.’ According to Irby, Wilson’s truck wheel hit the 13-inch curb, flipping the vehicle over into the creek 25 feet below. She said another person was killed on the same bridge about two years ago when they hit the same curb. She said according to 1970s standards for guardrails they should be at least 27 inches high to prevent a small compact car from flipping over the rail. ’You could hit that curb on a tricycle and you’re going to flip over it,’ Irby said. ‘It’s about a 25-foot drop to the water below and our cousin’s truck was demolished. We no longer have our cousin and we’re asking that something be done so no one else has to go through what we’re going through.’ David Stear of the Georgia Department of Transportation said the bridge was built in 1961 and at that time met standard requirements. He said unless bridge repairs or construction are paid for with federal funding there are no stringent requirements for curbing or guard rails. ’The bridge is essentially grandfathered in in its current condition in terms of standards. It’s no longer compliant and if it’s replaced or repaired in any project the county plans to pursue using federal funds, it’ll have to meet current standards,’ he said. ‘If the county upgrades the bridge strictly with the county’s money, they don’t have to raise the curbing any more than it is right now.’ He said the bridge has a low sufficiency rating which does not necessarily mean the bridge is structurally unsafe but generally is recommended for repairs. He said the bridge has weight restrictions and often counties wait until school buses are no longer able to cross them before updating them. ’The bridge has already been posted for weight restrictions and it has a sufficiency rating of 25.7. Sufficiency ratings are a scale rating with 100 meaning optimum sufficiency and a rating of 50 indicating the bridge is essentially approaching the need for repairs or replacement. A bridge with a sufficiency rating of 25 is nearing the end of its useful life,’ he said. After Irby addressed the commission about her cousin’s death, chairman Doug Mangham said it could not take any action during the meeting but it will be considered and something will be done. It was noted by county attorney Rob Morton that the public works director and county manager had already discussed it and are making plans to deal with the bridge. Commissioner Don Collins asked that the three compile a report and present it at the Tuesday, Nov. 27 meeting. ’Let’s do something about this because we need to take action on this issue,’ he said. Wilson, 22, was a 2008 graduate of Pike County High School. He was a machinist at Delta and was engaged to Chelsea Fox. He died sometime during the night Saturday, Oct. 13, after he struck the guardrail of the bridge, sending his vehicle off the road, according to the traffic division of the Pike County sheriff’s office. The black 2003 Ford F-250 landed upside down in the creek and he was partially ejected. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of the accident is still under investigation. ’Ryan was such an awesome young man and always had a smile on his face. He was always giving and never asking for anything in return,’ said his aunt Donna Bryant. ‘That’s just the kind of guy he was. He had just landed his dream job with Delta Airlines beginning work Aug. 6 and just loved it there. He and his fiancee Chelsea Fox were planning their wedding for next year. Ryan had a favorite saying when chatting with all his buddies, ‘˜You gonna have that.’ As a mom, I’m so proud of my daughter, Kim Irby, all the ‘˜cuzzins’ ‘“ that’s the way Ryan always referred to the cousins ‘“ and all his buddies for taking a stand on this issue so no other family will have to endure the pain we’ve had for the past month.’ Several of Wilson’s family and friends were at the bridge the morning after the fatal wreck. They said they started looking for Wilson at 11 p.m. Saturday night and searched throughout the night. After about an hour of sleep, they resumed searching Sunday morning and located the truck and his body just after 10 a.m. At that time, they noted how low the concrete railing is on the bridge and that were no guardrails or signage on the approach to it. ’Our family is extremely large and all the cousins are more like brothers and sisters than ‘˜cuzzins’ as Ryan called us,’ said Kristi Bryant. The group revisited the bridge a month after his death, the day of the last commissioner’s meeting. Wilson’s 23rd birthday would have been the date of the next commissioner’s meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 27. ’The best birthday present he could have is to have the word the bridge will be fixed,’ said Irby. ‘We won’t give up. The commissioners will get used to seeing all of our faces because this subject is something that is so dear and precious to all of us.’ Buffington Road is off Harden Road at New Hope Church Road. The accident occurred in Pike County but was not far from Etheridge Mill Road and the Lamar County line.

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