North Carolina man falls into river and dies after GPS points him to a broken bridge while driving home
The family of Phil Paxson, 47, said that it was a 'preventable accident' and that the bridge lacked any barriers or warning signs
HICKORY, NORTH CAROLINA: A 47-year-old father of two died after drowning in a river when his GPS directed him to a bridge that had washed away in 2013 in North Carolina. The incident occured on Friday, September 30, when the man was driving home from his daughter’s birthday celebration
Phil Paxson's mother-in-law, Linda McPhee Koenig, wrote in a Facebook post, "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 nine years ago and never repaired. It lacked any barriers or warning signs," adding, "It was a totally preventable accident. We are grieving his death."
Paxson was on his way to his home when the crash occurred around 11 pm, as per authorities. He was in a 2020 Jeep Gladiator, which was found overturned and partially submerged around 10 am on Saturday, October 1, as per a news release from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. The vehicle went over a concrete road, before getting submerged in the water.
The bridge, situated at 24th Street Place NE in Hickory, washed away in July 2013 due to flooding, as per the Hickory Daily Record. Troopers said that usually, barricades were in place to avoid drivers from crossing the bridge.
However, the barricades were removed after being vandalized and were missing at the time of the accident which claimed the life of Paxson. Investigators noted that the roadway was not owned or managed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. In 2014, neighbors had considered taking the legal route since the bridge was not repaired, WSOC-TV reported. The developer was considered responsible for the private roadway at that time but the development company has since been dissolved, according to Queen City News.
As per the outlet, a local property management company revealed that the original developer was not the owner and a meeting with attorneys was being held to determine who was responsible for the road.
Meanwhile, Paxson's family member were still trying to come to terms with the tragedy. His wife, Alicia, wrote in a Facebook post, "This was a known hazard. 2014!! Just an accident waiting to happen. Phil had to lose his life to bring awareness."
An obituary page for Phil describes him as "a wonderful father, husband, son, and son-in-law," who "was larger than life, always ready for an adventure, with a permanent smile on his face." The page added, "He had the best sense of humor, could connect with anyone, and make you feel like you were the most important person in the room."