JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Following a deadly crash early Tuesday morning, the News4JAX I-TEAM took a look into the history and safety of the Buckman Bridge.
Previous Buckman Bridge inspection
The last time the Florida Department of Transportation inspected the Buckman Bridge was in November 2022, when it scored a 91.8 sufficiency rating and 95.99 health index, which is a mechanism used to prioritize bridge maintenance and inspection.
The bridge was built in 1970 and reconstructed in 1995.
VIEW: How the Buckman Bridge fared in other recent inspections
The question some people are asking now, after Tuesday’s fatal accident, is could the bridge be safer? While others say, can people just drive safer?
Prior crashes that sent vehicles off Buckman Bridge
News4JAX records show these crashes sent vehicles — and in one case, a person — off the Buckman Bridge.
On Tuesday, a 61-year-old Jacksonville man died after his pickup truck was hit by a Road Ranger and then went off the Buckman Bridge, according to Florida Highway Patrol.
On Feb. 22, 2022, troopers said, a car traveling north in the southbound lanes hit a guardrail and flipped into shallow water on the Mandarin side of the bridge. Troopers said the 20-year-old woman driving the car was rescued by a good Samaritan who waded to her car.
RELATED: How to increase your chances of surviving if your vehicle goes into the water
On July 16, 2014, FHP said, a pickup truck went off the northbound lanes of the bridge after colliding with another vehicle. The driver, 48-year-old William Maddox of Tampa, was actually able to get out of the car but struggled in the choppy water and died.
On Nov. 2, 2012, the driver of a pickup truck reported that while traveling southbound in the outside lane, the utility trailer that was being towed became unhitched, struck the outside barrier wall, collided with a light pole and traveled over the wall into the river. The driver was unharmed.
On Feb. 13, 2012, an SUV overturned on the Buckman after colliding with a car. The son of the SUV driver was ejected over the rail into the river and was rescued by a plumber and two other people who stopped and lowered a 24-foot ladder to him. Another SUV passenger was also ejected — but on the roadway. The ejected SUV passengers were taken to hospitals.
On Feb. 27, 2010, an SUV driven by 41-year-old Luma Kagy went off the bridge. Investigators said she was cut off by a car driven by Sasha Pringle, who was later convicted of DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash. A federal judge threw out the conviction on the second charge, leaving her with a sentence of 15 years, being released early at the 12-year mark.
On Feb. 18, 1999, 42-year-old Thomas Honeywell and 29-year-old Shelby Sanboard were killed when their pickup truck went off the Buckman Bridge and into the St. Johns River. The FHP said a semitruck swerved to avoid a ladder that flew out of another truck and hit Honeywell’s pickup.
Buckman Bridge safety study
Following the death of Maddox in 2014, the Florida Department of Transportation ordered a safety study of the Buckman Bridge.
According to the study, which was released in 2015, FDOT found a total of 136 crashes hit one or both of the barrier walls on the bridge between 2009 and 2013, and during the same time frame, there were a total of four crashes that resulted in either a vehicle, a passenger or a trailer going over the wall into the St Johns River.
FDOT also found careless driving was a factor in 61% of all crashes on the bridge. Investigators concluded driver error was the predominant cause of bridge crashes.
The report says there is no indication that the cause of any of the crashes was due to the design of the Buckman Bridge.
The study did look at changes to potentially make the bridge safer. Those included raising or replacing the existing wall, which sits at 32 inches, but the study determined no reduction in crashes was expected by making the wall 42 inches.
Despite the results of the study, some still question whether the wall should be higher, while others say it’s up to drivers.
“Probably a combination of both because one crash is one crash too many. To have people lose their lives over something like this is terrible, horrible. If you’re having problems already maybe, you ought to look at higher railings, maybe that would be worthwhile,” said Judy Rothwell, who drives on the Buckman.
The study did investigate the addition of a metal tube to the top of the wall to offer some additional protection. The price tag on that was just over $8 million — and that was in 2014, so it would be significantly higher now.
The report did say enhanced enforcement by FHP will provide definite benefits.
“I think they need to look at something else because that’s just not enough what they’re doing,” Rothwell said.
And the 2015 report found overhead signs could increase safety on the bridge, and that’s been done.
FDOT will do another study after Tuesday’s crash.
It is also worth mentioning, in 2005, FDOT built up the concrete barrier wall by 2 feet on the Shands Bridge after two people died going off that bridge.