Wednesday, May 23, 2007

TOP STORY >>Overpass is taking more hits

Leader senior staff writer

For the second time in just over a year, an accident has torn up the old-style Hwy. 67/167 southbound overpass railing at Main Street in Jacksonville.

This time, no one was killed or injured.

Although the replacement guardrail was knocked into the street below in a recent one-car accident, it may not be correct to say that it failed.

The 1999 Pontiac Grand Am driven by Britney Davenport, 21, of Cabot hit the guardrail at 10:24 a.m

May 11, but remained on the road, according to Capt. Gloria Weakland, commander of Troop A, State Police. “My car pulled to the right, and I couldn’t get it to pull back,” Davenport told the investigating officer.

The report lists failure to maintain control and careless and prohibited driving as factors in the accident, but Davenport was not cited, Weakland said.

Road conditions included daylight and a dry, clear road with no defects on the roadway. Davenport was not ejected from the vehicle when its right front struck the guardrail. There were no injuries, Weakland said.

Repairs began Monday and could continue for another day or two, according to state Highway and Transportation Department spokesmen, who say it is not practical to put the newer, concrete barriers on the old bridge. In the meantime, at least one Jacksonville resident says she fears driving under the overpass on Main Street, afraid a passing vehicle will knock a heavy orange barrel down onto her.

In February 2006, a gravel truck driven by Donald Ray Watkins, 36, of Ward, slammed into a line of stopped traffic on the overpass, driving two vehicles through the same guardrail and landing among them on the street below.
Jerry Justice, 34, of Ward was killed in that accident and four others were hospitalized.

Watkins has been charged with four misdemeanors—negligent homicide and three counts of third-degree battery—in connection with the incident, according to Rob Berry, deputy Pulaski County prosecutor.In addition, there is “lots of civil stuff pending,” Berry said.

Watkins, represented by Mark Hampton, is slated for a pretrial hearing May 30, according to Berry. Highway and Transportation Department spokesman Glenn Bolick said that as highway widening continues northward, eventually the twin overpasses at Main Street would be replaced with wider, better overpasses. There is tentatively $32 million earmarked to widen Hwy. 67-167 from south of Redmond Road to north of Vandenberg, according to the official Metroplan 2030 long-term transportation plan.

That would include new, wider overpasses at Main Street and at James Street as well as the widening of Hwy. 67/167 sometime before 2030. The State Crime Lab reported that Watkins had had Diazepam, Nordiazpam and Trazodone in his blood. The report noted that the quantities in Watkins’ blood were “consistent with values widely considered to be normal or therapeutic.”

The report did not say whether or not the quantities in question could have impaired Watkins’ driving and contributed to the accident. A pharmacist who asked not to be identified said that Diazepam—a generic Valium — and Trazodone used together could be “really sedating,” and should not be taken at the same time. Each would carry a warning not to operate heavy equipment or machinery, the pharmacist said.

The Nordiazepam was the Diazepam that had already been metabolized, said the pharmacist.Trazodone is an antidepressant used for sleep or for pain control.