Imagine traveling home for the holidays at night and coming upon a bridge out on a dark, back Mississippi highway.
Paul and Betty Stanley from Memphis did that on Wednesday. No one is sure how they did it, but they missed the main barricades, hit the guard rail of the Mississippi 57 bridge over Red Creek and went down a steep embankment, traveling at least 25 feet.
They somehow wound up under the bridge, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell told the Sun Herald on Friday. And for the most part, they were unharmed.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation closed the highway at that point and has been routing traffic off Mississippi 57 before motorists get to the bridge. The detours are putting heavier traffic on Jackson County roads and other state highways and taking motorists traveling to the Coast dozens of miles out of their way.
But on Wednesday, at about 8:45 p.m., the Stanleys were headed south on Mississippi 57, approaching the bridge from the north.
Paul Stanley is 85 and Betty is 86, Sheriff Ezell said.
They were traveling in a 1998 Ford Econline van, going about 55 mph, according to the sheriff’s report.
They said they saw a sign and the next thing they knew, they hit part of the Red Creek bridge, Ezell said. They nose-dived down the embankment.
There were skid marks in the gravel Thanksgiving Day showing where the van’s tires went over the side and down the steep incline leading from the roadbed to the water. They avoided going into the water, which is several feet deep.
Ezell said it was clearly after dark, when they approached the bridge, “and it is extremely dark up there at night.”
Twenty-one miles to the south, there are lighted signs on Interstate 10 warning motorists that the Mississippi 57 bridge is out north of the interstate.
MDOT’s Kelly Castleberry said the state has concrete barricades in place at the bridge and “two sets of signs in each direction (north and south of the bridge) stating the bridge is closed, and Triton (crowd-control) barriers in place as well.”
MDOT sent someone out Friday to check the condition of the signs.
He said MDOT supervisors weren’t told of the wreck.
Former county supervisor Tommy Brodnax was in the area Thursday, heard about the incident and took pictures of the scene. He found one sign on the north side of the bridge that was partially down.
“MDOT needs to erect some signs with lights for safety,” Brodnax texted the Sun Herald. “Note: 1,500 vehicles a day travel that route with an average of three passengers in the car. That amounts to 4,500 citizens a day being denied use of that state highway.”
He has tried to convince MDOT that the old bridge can be repaired temporarily, while they build a new one, but so far, the state isn’t planning to spend the money.
Brodnax said his next move is to take engineers to assess the bridge.
Hearing that the Stanleys went off the highway at Red Creek, one law enforcement officer commented, “Man, that’s a deep drop off.”
Sheriff Ezell said he assumed a wrecker pulled the van back up the embankment, because it was not there on Friday.
“I don’t know the condition of the van,” he said. “But if it’s running, I’m going to look at buying one.”