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Residents question bridges safety

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Posted: Sunday, December 11, 2005 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:14 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Jimmie Ferguson

Killeen Daily Herald

The deaths of three young siblings on a rural bridge in Bell County got one nearby resident wondering whether its a warning that something even more tragic could happen.

The tragedy occurred shortly after 10 a.m. Nov. 26 on Oakalla Road in Bell County at a low water crossing concrete bridge about .2 mile east of the Burnet County line.

The front grill of the 1993 Mer-cury Marquis, driven by the childrens mother, still lies in the creek where the car slid off the crossing on its top and ultimately caused the deaths of Alicia Rodgers, 10; Alexia Rodgers, 4; and Kyle Rodgers, 16 months, the children of Tina and Neill Rodgers of Van.

Alexia and Kyle died that day, and Alicia died the following morning.

Their grandparents, John and Lou Dzara, reside in Briggs about 15 miles away.

Jerry King, who resides very near the bridge, was at the site that day.

He said he held the grandmother at one point when she was too weak to stand. He remembered tears in everybodys eyes and the tremendous efforts of the members of the Oakalla, Briggs and Kempner volunteer fire departments to keep the children alive.

Its unfortunate that we have three children to die at any time for any reason, said King, a 67-year-old grandfather. But that was not necessary. There was no rhyme or reason for that to happen, other than the fact that the good Lord saw to it that this is something to prevent something more tragic, such as a school bus accident.

Just imagine with a low visibility and that school bus from Lampasas coming across that bridge. Wonder if it has a full compliment of kids on it and hits one of those trucks or cars, and they all go off the bridge, King said. Perhaps, that was the reason. We will never know.

King said he feels the Rodgers children should not have died in vein.

Something has to happen, he said. Something needs to happen to prevent something else from happening.

The Rodgers family could not be contacted for comments.

John Fisher, a Bell County commissioner, says the bridge is structurally sound but does see a problem.

The current rating of the bridge is a 84.1, said Fisher, noting the bridge belongs to the county but is inspected by the Texas Department of Transportation.

To be considered for replacement, Fisher said a bridge has to receive a 50 percent or less rating.

The structure itself is sound, Fisher said. Yet, the approaches to it are what make it dangerous.

Even though there is a sign at each end of the bridge that states, One Lane Bridge 20 mph, an approach at improper speed is dangerous, the commissioner said.

When approaching the bridge from both the east and west, the two-way road turns into a single lane. The bridge doesnt become visible until the driver negotiates a sharp curve and, suddenly, it appears.

So, we are in the process of evaluating the approaches to see if theres something that we might do to straighten them out and continue to utilize the existing single-lane bridge structure, Fisher said.

King said he is not at odds with Fisher but straightening the road out would not solve the problem.

The bridge is a one-way bridge, and there is no change in that, King said. What they need to do is take this road and connect it with FM 2657. The state needs to do that, because of the amount of traffic generated through here already.

King said straightening the road out and even making the bridge two-way would be too costly.

According to files in the county engineer office, Fisher said the last accident that occurred on the bridge was in February and that involved a truck, that ran off the approach and went down in the river. It never made it to the bridge.

It was obviously excessive speed under road conditions, Fisher added. And thats the only reported accident that came to us since 1985.

King, whose home sits on the hillside just before the road turns into a single lane on the eastside of the bridge, said there are accidents out there all the time, but the motorists do not report them to the authorities.

They wreck, get back in the vehicles and drive off without reporting it, said King, noting more of these accidents occur in his front yard than at the bridge, because motorists fail to negotiate the turn to the bridge.

Before he because justice of the peace for Precinct 4 in Bell County 10 years ago, Judge Garland K. Potvin, of Killeen, served 25 years as a trooper with the Department of Public Safety in East Bell County.

Potvin said Rodgers accident was the first fatal accident that he has ever investigated or heard of at the site.

There have been other accidents there that I have been called out on, but I have never had a fatal accident at that location as a JP or as a highway patrol officer, said Potvin, who believes the bridge site is deceiving.

Its just that people can be driving less than the posted 20 mph speed limit and still have an accident, the judge said. Its the way the road is built as you come off the hill and it curves down toward the low-water crossing.

Fisher said the Oakalla Bridge was constructed in the late 1920s or early 30s by TxDOT and has been updated and modified throughout the years. The Oakalla Bridge is one of five other low-water crossings in Bell County, of which one or two are one lane. He said there are 14 one-lane bridges in the county but none exactly like the Oakalla Bridge.

Contact Jimmie Ferguson at jferguson@kdhnews.com

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