Back River Bridge Fatal Crash Raises Safety Questions - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Back River Bridge Fatal Crash Raises Safety Questions

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SAVANNAH, GA -

We have new details on two local people who are dead after a head-on collision on the Back River Bridge.  It happened Wednesday afternoon and it snarled traffic for hours. 

The event is raising more questions about the bridge's safety.  The Back River Bridge is on Highway 17 at the Georgia-South Carolina line.  

The Jasper County Coroner tells News 3 that Bluffton resident Tonya Bergelt lost control of her Lincoln and veered into the next lane where she hit Savannah resident Rebecca Pirkle.  Both of them died that night.  It was a tragic end to their lives, but could it have been avoided? 

The Back River Bridge is one of the most dangerous in our area.  Investigators are still working to determine the cause of the crash, but witnesses say it was distracted driving.  They told police, the Lincoln was all over the road.  And the bridge just might have been the worst place to be in that situation.

The Back River Bridge can be very dangerous because there are only two narrow lanes and no emergency lane, and that leaves very little margin for error.

News 3 asked Jill Nagel with GDOT about this bridge in July. 

"We want citizens to understand that every bridge they travel over on our state highways are in safe condition or they would be closed. We would not let a bridge stay open that is not safe for the traveling public," Nagel said. 

Nagel told us that it is structurally sound, but the bridge is outdated and needs to be replaced.

"It is handling a far larger volume of traffic than it was designed for in its day," Nagel said. 

A new bridge is in the process of being built to replace the old one.  It's expected to be finished sometime in 2016.  Savannah residents we talked to say the new one can't come soon enough.

"I get really nervous myself when we drive to South Carolina going that way because of all the accidents that have happened over there," said Savannah resident Shannon Spell. 


"That's really unsettling to hear considering the amount of times I'm going to have to be on it," said Maryssa Pickett, about going home to North Carolina.   

Investigators were out Thursday looking for more clues to the cause of the crash.  We'll continue to follow the story and bring any new details as they become available.   

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