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Driver responsible for I-16 bridge accident cited for driving without a license

Construction crews will likely be expected to work quickly and efficiently to repair damage sustained last week to a portion of I-16, which aids in one of the most pivotal components of the state’s economy, the two seaside ports. An Alabama driver crashed into the State Route 86 overpass located in Treutlen County on Thursday morning, shifting it 6 feet. According to Georgia State Patrol Post 19, the hauler was driving the 2004 Peterbilt with an expired license.

The Chronicle contacted Kyle Collins, director of Georgia Department of Transportation – East, as well as Post 19 and Region 7 of the Motor Carrier Compliance Division for details about this developing story.

A report from GSP indicates the estimated time of the crash to be 1:03 a.m. on Thursday, July 15. That same report names the driver as Cecil Edward Reeves, a 40-year-old male from Letohatchee, Alabama. He was driving on behalf of Browns Clearing Inc., an Elmore, Alabama company. He was hauling a load of tires at the time of the accident.

Also mentioned in the report was a passenger, 46-year-old female Stephanie Gomes of Poplarville, Mississippi.

The following is the crash narrative as it appears on the report:

“Vehicle #1 was traveling west, in the right, westbound travel lane of Interstate 16 near mile marker 77.5 in Treutlen County. Vehicle #1 was in tow with a hopper dump trailer. Driver #1 stated that the dump function initiator malfunctioned. Driver #1 stated this malfunction caused the hopper to elevate the bed into the dump position. As a result, the trailer impacted the east side of the State Route 86 overpass.

After impacting the overpass, vehicle #1 separated from the trailer. The dump bed of the trailer separated from the chassis. After impacting the overpass, the dump bed came to an uncontrolled rest against the overpass in an elevated position. After impact, the chassis traveled west along the roadway for 162 feet before coming to an uncontrolled rest partially on the westbound fog line facing west.

After impact, vehicle #1 traveled west along the roadway for 208 feet. Vehicle #1 then traveled into the median of Interstate 16 for 88 feet. Vehicle #1 then vaulted over the Interstate 16 cable barrier for 34 feet. Vehicle #1 then traveled west across the eastbound travel lanes of Interstate 16 for 38 feet. Vehicle #1 then traveled onto the south shoulder of Interstate 16 for 157 feet before coming to an uncontrolled rest facing west.

The area of initial impact was in the right westbound travel lane of Interstate 16 at the State Route 86 overpass. The roadway width of Interstate 16 westbound is 24 feet. Driver #1 and passenger #1 were not injured. After impact, the State Route 86 overpass was shifted west for 6 feet. The State Route 86 overpass was deemed unsafe and scheduled for demolition and repair. The crash scene was recorded on the WatchGuard camera of car #925.”

Within hours, GDOT crews, along with MCCD and area emergency workers, were on scene to shut down both the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 16 in totality. Detours were put in place as quickly as possible, causing smaller communities like Norristown, Adrian, and Soperton to become extremely congested. (Reportedly, the aftermath of the detours had a visible effect on the fragile south Georgia road system that supports Highway 221; much of the pavement was peeled off the roadway, as evidenced by photos taken by Phillip Jennings, a Soperton man.)

Collins says GDOT does not, at this time, have an estimate in regard to the amount of monetary damage caused by the accident.

“We are simply too early in the process to be able to determine a cost to replace the bridge,” Collins said. “As we move along in the design phase, we should be able to more closely pinpoint costs. I can assure you that, as always, GDOT will act as good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Additionally, the director of GDOT – East says he is unsure of when repair work will begin. Collins did, however, say “a total demolition” was the “immediate goal” from the beginning. That has since been completed; demo work was done by private companies with GDOT oversight and assistance. CW Matthews and D. H. Griffin Wrecking did the majority of the work to take down and clean up the SR 86 overpass bridge, which, at Exit 78, brings motorists to Swainsboro in one direction or Soperton in the other using Highway 221.

Crews worked overnight Thursday and into Friday morning doing the demolition, finalizing it two days ahead of schedule. By Friday night at 8:30 p.m., all eastbound and westbound lanes had reopened. However, a local detour route is still in place for SR 86, a highway that accommodates some 200 or 300 vehicles daily, for through-traffic until further notice. The eastbound SR 86 detour, according to Collins, begins at the intersection of SR 86 and SR 15 in Treutlen County; heads south on SR 15 until it reaches the interchange of I-16 and SR 15 (Exit 71); then heads east on I-16 until it reaches the interchange of I-16 and SR 56 (Exit 78); and exits at Exit 78 onto SR 56 west until reaching the intersection of SR 56 and SR 86.

The westbound detour is the same as described above for eastbound—except reverse.

The Chronicle also reached out to MCCD to inquire about what, if any, citations Reeves received from that agency. As of press time, there was nothing to report.

“My thanks goes out to the GDOT team members and contractors who worked through the night and day today to make this happen,” Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell R. McMurry, P.E. said. “Our sincere gratitude goes to law enforcement, and I’d like thank those communities and individuals who have been impacted by this event for their patience and support.”

Look for updates as they become available.

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