911 calls released in Buckman Bridge crash

Published On: Aug 07 2014 04:54:08 PM EDT
Updated On: Aug 07 2014 11:59:27 PM EDT

VIDEO: A driver on the Buckman Bridge that witnessed a truck go over the rail stopped to help, and eventually heard the victims last words.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Less than a month since the tragedy on the Buckman Bridge where a 48-year-old man and his black truck went over the side, the 911 calls from people who saw the truck go over have been released.

Those same people saw William Maddox (pictured below) in the water attempting to swim. Maddox's body was later found in the St. Johns River.

There were several people who called in after the accident happened, all desperately trying to get police out to the scene to try to save Maddox.

UNCUT: 911 calls report vehicle in water

The crash happened just after 8 a.m. July 16. State troopers said a car clipped the back of Maddox's truck, sending the truck into a spin.

One man told a 911 dispatcher he saw the entire thing, including Maddox in the water afterward.

"There was just a real bad crash on the Buckman Bridge," the caller said.

"Northbound or southbound, sir?" the dispatcher said.

"Southbound. A truck flipped over into the river. There's a cop on the scene. A black pickup truck," the caller said.

"And it flipped in the river?" the dispatcher said.

"Yeah, the guy's out now. It looks like he's swimming," the caller said.

One of the 911 callers said he heard Maddox's last words and has since passed that on to Maddox's family.

“I was going, 'Wow, man, this is a dying declaration,'” Douglas Smith said. “I knew that I had to carry his message to his family because that was something he needed me to do, because he looked right at me.”

Smith said Maddox's last words still haunt him today. He called up to Smith, who was on the top of the bridge looking down, and told him to tell his family that he loved them.

Smith said he never takes the Buckman Bridge to work, but he decided to that day, and it changed his life forever.

“As of today, I'm still going through therapy,” Smith said.

Smith said he saw the black truck go over the bridge. He said his immediate thought was to jump out of his car and look for him.

“I saw a man in the water trying to swim and trying to stay alive,” Smith said. “At the same token we were trying to help him and there was nothing we could do. He was so far down and the water was so rough that day.”

Smith said several people tried to throw things down to Maddox, hoping he could hold on to something, but nothing worked. That's when Smith says Maddox yelled out his last words.

“At that moment, he looked at me, and I looked at him, and that's when he said, 'Tell my wife and kids that I love them,'” Smith said. “And then he went under, and then came back up, and I was praying for him, and he said, 'Jesus, take me.' That was the end of it. It was an experience I've never witnessed (before).”

Smith said he'll never forget those words and knew it was his job to deliver that message to Maddox's family, which he did at the funeral. He also explained exactly what happened on the bridge during those last moments, including how many people attempted to save Maddox's life.

“They didn't even know if anyone was trying until I told them that yes there was people throwing things in, but he couldn't get to them,” Smith said. “So they felt a lot better, and I felt a lot better because I delivered the message that he wanted me to deliver.”

A few hours after the crash, emergency workers pulled the truck out of the river, then later found Maddox's body.

It's a day many people may never forget, and that tragic accident spurred an outcry from the public to push the Florida Department of Transportation to take a look at the safety of the bridge.

The FDOT said Thursday it has to wait on the Florida Highway Patrol to finish its investigation so that it can take the FHP's findings and use those toward a study on the Buckman Bridge. But the FDOT said it's definitely taking this call for action seriously.

Ron Tittle with the FDOT said what happened that day is an absolute tragedy, and it takes a team effort from the FDOT to drivers to make a change.

He said drivers can have flotation devices in their car for emergency situations. He said after the accident, he went out and bought one to keep in his car just in case, but as far as the FDOT goes, a three-part plan is in place to analyze the bridge and see what can be done to keep anyone else from going over the side.

He said their plan includes analyzing the safety of the bridge, including how many accidents occur on the bridge, what kind of accidents they are and so on.

The second part is the operational side of things, such as the speed on the bridge, where the lanes are located and how clear the markings are.

Lastly, they'll analyze the design of the bridge, which is where higher barriers will be considered.

“As far as looking at the bridge, I drive on it sometimes too, I've never thought about it being unsafe,” Tittle said. “It meets the standards, but is that in today's time, when looking at the data and the number of crashes, and the speed and lane structure, is it satisfactory for the public today? That's what's gotta be analyzed as well. We want to make sure we're making straight thoroughfares. One fatality is too many. Our goal is to have no fatalities in this area.”

Tittle said his line is always open for emails and calls from the public expressing ideas or concerns.

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