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Why did deadly OKC bridge not get fixed?

City officials said guard rails will be put up on N Midwest Boulevard approaching the turnpike bridge where four motorists have crashed and died over the last four years. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
City officials said guard rails will be put up on N Midwest Boulevard approaching the turnpike bridge where four motorists have crashed and died over the last four years. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

The crosses at the base of a bridge in northeast Oklahoma City bear witness to a sad truth about this lonely spot in the road.

It has become a death trap.

In the almost four years since Thunder co-owner Aubrey McClendon's fatal crash, three other motorists have hit the same bridge at high speeds, according to police collision reports. They died, too.

The latest, in December, might have been prevented if not for a bureaucratic mistake, an investigation by The Oklahoman found.

Two years ago, Oklahoma City took steps to fix the situation, records show. A work order was issued to install guardrails on both sides of the road north and south of the bridge for the Turner Turnpike.

The work never got done.

Now, a city official is blaming a miscommunication for the failure. And the official promises guardrails will go up as soon as possible.

"With your inquiry recently, we have reopened the project," the city's public works director, Eric Wenger, told The Oklahoman.

The bridge goes over Midwest Boulevard between NE 122 Street and Memorial Road. McClendon and two other drivers veered over the center line of the two-lane road and ran into the concrete abutment on the bridge's southwest side. The driver in December ran into the abutment on the bridge's southeast side.

The request for guardrails originated in the municipal counselor's office, Wenger said. From there, it went to the traffic management division of the Public Works Department. Next, it went to a city streets crew in the same department to do the actual installation.

"They weren't able to complete the work. It exceeded their capability," the public works director said. "We repair guardrail often. Any time there's an accident that hits a guardrail our streets crews — on city streets — make the repair. But this was a new install request, so it fell outside of what was a typical work item for them."

After that's when things went amiss.

The work order reflects that the request was referred in January 2018 to yet another division in the Public Works Department to arrange for a contractor to complete the project.

But employees in the engineering division could find no record they ever got the request, Wenger said.

"It just did not get forwarded properly," Wenger said.

"Miscommunications do not happen often," he said. "I cannot explain. I don't know. I don't know what happened on this one."

He said a contractor could have the installation done within 60 days. The cost to the city likely will be under $50,000.

"Obviously, once we realized that something may have been overlooked, we're ready to correct that." he said.

McClendon's crash on March 2, 2016, made national news, particularly because it came the day after he was indicted by a federal grand jury.

In a statement issued hours before his death, the co-founder and former CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp. had called the bid-rigging charge "wrong and unprecedented" and vowed to "fight to prove my innocence and to clear my name.”

The medical examiner's office classified the death as an accident after police concluded an investigation. He was 56.

"After conducting a very thorough investigation, speaking to people who knew him and people who spoke to him prior to the accident, we found no information that would indicate anything other than a vehicular accident," a police captain said.

McClendon's SUV was traveling at 88 mph moments before the collision, police said. The speed limit is 50 mph.

Two months later, another driver, Robert Loring Ramee, 68, of Oklahoma City, drove into the bridge abutment at 75 mph, police reported.

Witnesses told police the driver had made a U-turn on Midwest Boulevard "and began to accelerate rapidly" northward toward the bridge. "There was no attempt to avoid before impact. The evidence is consistent with deliberate intent," police reported.

The medical examiner's office classified Ramee's death as a suicide.

In December 2017, Gene Anthony Quick drove into the bridge abutment "well in excess of the 50 mph speed limit," according to the police collision report. "This appears to be have been an intentional act," an investigator wrote in the report.

The medical examiner's office, however, classified the death an accident.

Quick, 73, of Oklahoma City, had been released from the Oklahoma County jail days before after being arrested for failure to register as a sex offender.

The crash that might have been avoided, ironically, involved a longtime engineer with the Oklahoma Transportation Department.

Kirk M. Goins, 56, crashed Dec. 17. Police reported he was driving northbound at a high rate of speed when his pickup left the roadway on the right. The pickup struck a chain-link fence and a steel staircase before colliding with the "concrete wall of the bridge."

The medical examiner's office has not issued a report about Goins' death.

He wrote on Facebook he lived in Edmond. His family declined comment.

Related Photos
<strong>[TODD PENDLETON/THE OKLAHOMAN GRAPHICS</strong>

[TODD PENDLETON/THE OKLAHOMAN GRAPHICS

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-982d4714b16caac1a5500d8c65997ceb.jpg" alt="Photo - [TODD PENDLETON/THE OKLAHOMAN GRAPHICS " title=" [TODD PENDLETON/THE OKLAHOMAN GRAPHICS "><figcaption> [TODD PENDLETON/THE OKLAHOMAN GRAPHICS </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b257d409e2c81df3a8edd38ded319606.jpg" alt="Photo - City officials said guard rails will be put up on N Midwest Boulevard approaching the turnpike bridge where four motorists have crashed and died over the last four years. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" City officials said guard rails will be put up on N Midwest Boulevard approaching the turnpike bridge where four motorists have crashed and died over the last four years. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> City officials said guard rails will be put up on N Midwest Boulevard approaching the turnpike bridge where four motorists have crashed and died over the last four years. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Nolan Clay

Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,... Read more ›

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