Police divers find body in river after crash

Published On: Aug 06 2014 10:41:41 AM EDT
Updated On: Jul 17 2014 12:25:11 AM EDT

VIDEO: The Buckman Bridge's safety barriers are the state standard 32 inches but family members of those who have died say inaction will only lead to more tragedies.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The Florida Highway Patrol says a body presumed to be the 48-year-old driver of a pickup truck that spun off the side of the Buckman Bridge on Wednesday morning was found at the bottom of the river about 25-30 feet from where the pickup was recovered.

FHP Capt. Keith Gaston announced just after noon that one body was recovered from about 12 feet of water -- just over an hour after a pickup truck was recovered from the river with no one inside. The pickup was found lying on its cab, wheels up, with the windows smashed.

"We know the person was out of the vehicle. They attempted to swim," Gaston said.

The Coast Guard was told a witness saw a person swimming away from the vehicle, then disappeared under the water.

The victim's identity will be confirmed by the medical examiner, but troopers said the vehicle had a local license tag. Troopers were attempting to locate the registered owner and family members.

Three of four northbound lanes of I-295 closed shortly after the accident due to rescue operations and reopened about 12:30 p.m.

According to the FHP, traffic in the northbound lanes slowed about 7:30 a.m. in response to an accident involving a tractor-trailer in the southbound lanes.

Troopers said 21-year-old Andrew McPhun was driving his Toyota Scion in the outside lane and the 48-year-old victim was driving his Ford Ranger in the second outside lane. Traffic came to an abrupt stop in front of McPhun, who lost control, crossing into the second outside lane, troopers said.

They said the left front side of his car struck the right front side of the victim's truck and both vehicles spun out of control, causing the truck to hit the north concrete barrier wall, flip over it and plunge into the water.

Troopers said charges against McPhun are pending.

McPhun's former neighbor, Rob Lee, said McPhun has always been a mild-mannered guy, who takes care of his mom and her dog.

“He never appeared to be any type of reckless driver, never had any wild friends coming over or anything like that,” Lee said.

He said McPhun recently moved int with his girlfriend but dropped by often to see his mom.

Jacksonville Fire-Rescue, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office marine unit and divers, a boat and helicopter from the Coast Guard and boats from the Navy and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were all involved in the search for survivors.

IMAGES: Rescue, recovery efforts

Artesha Toliver said she was driving toward Orange Park and was just one car ahead of the crash when it happened.

"I witnessed the vehicle going into the water," Toliver said. "I was driving with me and my son in the car and all of a sudden I heard a boom, and it was like a smaller car and a black truck was trying to get over at the same time and the truck ended up hitting the smaller car. The smaller car actually went as it was going on the left side and it kind of spinned and went over that way. Then the truck ended up losing control. And once it lost control -- there were other cars -- I don't know if it hit the other car, but all I saw was that the truck went over the barrier."

Toliver said she was nervous as the accident happened.

"It was almost like it was bottoms up and it dropped into the water," she said. "It was a black truck and it was very scary because it was one car away from me. Another car would've gotten hit but it kind of deterred and didn't get hit, so I didn't get hit as well -- me and my 9-year-old son, we were in the car. It was devastating to see the actual black truck just drop over the bridge. It was a serious sight to see."

Toliver said she didn't see how many people were in the truck because it happened so fast.

"Me and my 9-year-old, we just started screaming and praying just for the person or persons to survive," she said.

Toliver said a lot of cars stopped along the barrier after the crash. She said drivers were going the speed limit when the crash happened.

Toliver said she's not sure which vehicle was at fault in the crash because it all happened behind her.

Previous crashes with vehicles going off Buckman Bridge

There have been three incidents of vehicles going off the side of the Buckman Bridge since 1999. Two of those accidents resulted in fatalities.

  • In February of this year, 42-year-old Thomas Honeywell and 29-year-old Shelby Sanboard were killed when their pickup truck was struck by a tractor-trailer and knocked off the bridge. The big rig had swerved to avoid a ladder in the road.
  • In February 2012, Veronica Butler was driving an SUV across the bridge when it overturned after colliding with a car. Butler's son was thrown over the rail into the river. He was rescued by three others who stopped and lowered a 24-foot ladder to him.
  • In February 2010, an SUV driven by 41-year-old Luma Kajy drove off the bridge after she was cut off by a car driven by 31-year-old Sasha Pringle. Pringle was later convicted of DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident causing a fatality and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Luma Kajy's nephew, Devon Kajy spoke to News4Jax on Wednesday after the fatal accident, recalling his family's similar ordeal four years ago.

"Nobody should have to pass away like that," Devon Kajy said.

He said his aunt was attempting to swerve away from a vehicle in 2010 when her car flipped over the side of the Buckman Bridge. He said his mother called him to tell him about Wednesday's accident on the Buckman, and it felt like deja vu.

Devon Kajy said Luma's husband and children moved to Michigan a few years ago, because it was too difficult for the family to stay in their home without her.

Devon Kajy said he hopes the tragedies on the bridge will be a wake-up call to city leaders to create change.

“I used to travel almost every single day on the Buckman Bridge,” he said. “Now, I try to stay away if I can.”

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