A North Carolina family is devastated and desperately seeking answers after a father of two who trusted his GPS was directed by said GPS to a defunct bridge that no longer exists and instead drops off into a creek.
“The North Carolina State Highway Patrol responded to a report of a vehicle in a creek in the area of 24th Street Place Northeast in Hickory around 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1. When troopers got to the area, they found a 2020 Jeep Gladiator upside down and partially submerged in the water where the road was washed out,” according to local station WCNC.
“Troopers said barricades that were put up to warn drivers of the collapsed bridge were apparently removed, leading to the crash. The driver of the Jeep, identified as Philip John Paxson, was found dead inside the vehicle. Troopers believe Paxson crashed around 11 p.m. Friday.”
Breaking Hickory- a driver is dead after going off a closed bridge overnight. Friends say they found him this morning along 24th Street Place NE. The highway patrol says the road is not state maintained and there were no barriers. Watch channel 9 for updates. pic.twitter.com/VdsXioX4HA
— Dave Faherty (@FahertyWSOC9) October 1, 2022
The family of victim Philip Paxson, 47, is now understandably outraged, though less at the GPS and more so at the lack of any warning signs or barriers.
“Our family suffered a horrible loss Friday September 30. My son-in-law, Phil Paxson lost his life returning home after celebrating his daughter’s 9th Birthday in Hickory, North Carolina,” Paxson’s mother-in-law wrote in a Facebook post following his tragic death.
“It was a dark and rainy night and he was following his GPS which led him down a concrete road to a bridge that dropped off into a river. The bridge had been destroyed 9 years ago and never repaired. It lacked any barriers or warning signs to prevent the death of a 47-year-old father of two daughters. He will be greatly missed by his family and friends. It was a totally preventable accident. We are grieving his death.”
Our family suffered a horrible loss Friday on September 30. My son-in-law, Phil Paxson lost his life returning home…
The keywords were this: “It was a totally preventable accident.”
“Seems like minimal action could have saved his life. Nobody wanted to take responsibility. I don’t understand how over nine years this could be like this,” Paxson’s wife, Alicia Paxson, said to local station WSOC.
According to the station, the bridge “washed away after being flooded during a storm” several years ago.
“State troopers said the road is not maintained by the state, nor is it inside the Hickory city limits and there were no barriers in place warning drivers that the bridge was out. Troopers said the previous barricades had reportedly been vandalized and removed,” the station notes.
But locals say they’ve been demanding the bridge be fixed for years.
“In 2014, Channel 9 reported on the washed-out road and efforts to get it fixed. At the time, there were barriers up preventing anyone from driving into the creek,” according to WSOC.
“Should not have happened. People in this neighborhood have been fighting this for years, and nobody wants to take responsibility,” resident John Hopson told the station.
According to WCNC, Paxson was found by his close friend Jon Hopson.
“I pulled right where we are at and I saw the back tires of his jeep sticking up out of the water. It was the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life. I was the last person to talk to him, cooked his last meal, and the one to find him,” Hopson told the station.
“We’ve been told time after time that it is not the state’s and it is not NCDOT. It’s a private road and no one is responsible for the road,’ he added.
Part of the problem is nobody can track down the owners of the road.
“A property deed linked it to Keener, Shook and Tarlton but that partnership dissolved in 1994. … [R]eporter Jesse Pierre visited a rental office called Shook and Tarlton in Hickory. The owner did not do an interview but said they only purchased a building three years ago but with no assets,” WCNC notes.
But Paxson’s family refuses to accept this lack of answers.
“Phil did not deserve to die like that and it is a horrible thing to go through. His children now have no father. We are not going to let it go and we are going to find out who is responsible for it,” Alicia’s sister, Kayla Bubar, said.
Their neighbors are also taking action.
“Some community members added barriers after the incident and are calling for the county or state to do something and take responsibility for this roadway before someone else gets hurt,” according to WCNC.
In a statement to the station, local realtor Eric Andrews warned that this is a common problem.
“[Owners] might go bankrupt, they might die, the company might not exist anymore. So you can’t have the expectation of some kind of developer or entity being responsible for that road in perpetuity,” he said.
The best path forward, he suggested, might be for local residents to petition the North Carolina Department of Transportation to take over the road, assuming certain criteria are met.
“It needs to be built to a certain standard. The pavement or the asphalt needs to be a certain thickness. The culverts need to be of a certain standard. They need to be NCDOT-quality culverts,” he explained.
To help the family, consider giving to their GoFundMe:
Paxson family https://t.co/bUQSAJaCkW
— Alison Steele (@VeggieNihilist) October 9, 2022
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