Survivor Recalls ’83 Fall From Lafayette Bridge

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Joe LaBrosse and four friends were crossing the Lafayette Bridge on a snowy December night in 1983 when the driver lost control.

The concrete barrier between the car and the edge of the bridge had been piled with snow from plows and was more of a ramp than a barricade, LaBrosse recalled Tuesday.

The large sedan shot up the snow embankment and teetered over the edge.

“It hesitated momentarily,” said LaBrosse, 54, of West St. Paul. “We all looked at one another with scared looks on our faces, and then we tipped over and fell … to the parking lot below.”

His girlfriend was next to him in the front seat; she died. Another passenger was paralyzed on his right side. LaBrosse and two other women were treated at hospitals.

When LaBrosse read about the Sunday morning plunge of driver Mary Kay Jungbauer off the same St. Paul bridge over the Mississippi River, he thought, “Not another one.”

LaBrosse’s crash and that of two others between 1976 and this weekend all happened when drivers lost control of their cars and shot over the 32-inch high barriers lining the U.S. 52 span.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said the bridge is safe and the barrier height is standard for all bridges — drivers just need to take their time when weather is bad.

“In the course of 35 years, it’s happened three times,” said MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard. “It’s not like it’s happening all the time.”

“Ramping” — the piling up of snow along the barriers — happens during big storm events as a normal part of plowing snow from the bridge roadway, said Duane Green Jr., MnDOT’s maintenance operation engineer in charge of structures.

The ramped snow is eventually hauled away as part of normal cleanup, Green said, but can pose a short-term risk on bridges during bad weather.

“It makes safety features ineffective, or less effective, anyway,” he said, cautioning that the “general public still needs to drive appropriately for the conditions of the roadway.”

Jungbauer, 49, of West St. Paul remains in critical condition at Regions Hospital. It is not known what caused her vehicle to leave the bridge and fall about 25 feet to the ground near the downtown St. Paul end of the bridge.

In another past accident, reports said the driver lost control on ice and launched over the barrier.

On Jan. 4, 1976, two St. Paul men died when their car hit ice near the downtown end of the bridge and plunged to the ground below. About 4 inches of snow had fallen during the days leading up to the accident, weather records show.

LaBrosse went over the bridge on Dec. 20, 1983, close to its downtown end, near the site of last weekend’s accident. Some 16 inches of snow had fallen in the days before the accident.

Killed was Michele Ries, 22, of Inver Grove Heights.

LaBrosse said he settled with the state for a small amount after the accident, and added that suits by two other passengers didn’t go anywhere after the courts ruled that the state did an appropriate job of clearing the roadway.

The bridge, completed in 1968, is due for a $130.4 million reconstruction beginning in January. The project is because of the bridge’s age, MnDOT said, not due to any safety issues.

One improvement will be a wider shoulder, said Jennie Read, north area engineer with MnDOT. The current Lafayette Bridge shoulder is about 3 to 4 feet wide; new shoulders will be 12 feet wide, which should provide more of a buffer between the road and the edge of the bridge for motorists, she said.

The new bridge is scheduled for completion by 2014.

St. Paul Pioneer Press

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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  • markHT

    “In the course of 35 years, it’s happened three times,” said MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard. “It’s not like it’s happening all the time.”

    The fact that’s happened at all, let alone three times is a clear indication that piling snow alongside the bridge rail (and thus building a ramp from which to launch a vehicle and its driver) is a clear indication that it IS preventable. Kent Barnard’s comment is not only insensitive, it is ignorant and lazy. Great people we have working for us, wouldn’t you say?

    • JamieinMN

      No it’s a CLEAR indication that people aren’t SLOWING DOWN or PAYING ATTENTION! Do you know how many people travel that bridge

      • Jon Lindquist

        the fact they have a ramp being created in the first place is a problem, MnDOT should be removing the snow ramp right away, instead of waiting, if there is a risk of drivers going over the edge as a result. The shoulder is supposed to be a buffer and not a car launch!

        it would actually be better if there is a snow wall that can absorb the impact of a vehicle in case of emergency.

      • JamieinMN

        Not every man-made structure can be made completely idiot-proof.

      • JamieinMN

        If people were paying attention, they wouldn’t be using the snowbank to launch their car off the bridge…….Just sayin!

    • People

      In the course of 35 years, it’s happened three times,” said MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard. “It’s not like it’s happening all the time.”

      It’s going to be one of his own family soon. Then he would say NO it’s not ok, lets get this fix.

  • Jessica

    GET A LIFE JAMIE – it was very insensitive and ignorant!!
    Were you driving with them? Do you know how fast they were going or if they were paying attention?
    Bottom line is this state does a HORRIBLE job taking care of the snow!

    • JamieinMN

      No, there is no problem with MnDot. The problem are these people NOT paying attention! Why doesn’t ANYBODY want to take self-responsibility anymore?!?!?!!
      You’re an IDIOT. If you see something in the road, do you slow down, or swerve to avoid it? Come on people!

  • Susan Marie Hendrickson

    Refresh my memory, When was the last construction project completed on 52? I am thinking it was within the past 6-7 years. My thought at that time was: “That’s it? The project is complete? Did not seem safe for the amount of travel on the bridge especially during rush hour. Sometimes the traffic was at a standstill on the bridge for 45 minutes to an hour. Can the bridge hold that much wt. nonstop. I was afraid to go on it during rush hour and that was just my human instinct. If this travel route is going to be replaced do it right and stop doing extra on projects that will not realistically accomodate the amount of traffic. This is a significant travel route used to go south in this state.

  • Jessica

    Jamie do everyone a favor and pull your lip over your head and swallow :)

    • JamieinMN

      Laaaame. You people just love to blame others for YOUR mistakes, dontcha?

  • Macy

    So every accident that occurs due to snow is the result of MNDots negligence? These are accidents folks, and no one is to blame. What do all of you naysayers suggest MNDot does with the snow when they have an entire state to cleanup after we just got 20 inches dumped on us? Their priority is to make roadways passable and as safe as possible so people can travel, not remove snow from bridges so unfortunate accidents like this could be prevented. Everyone needs to slow down, be aware of what’s going on around them and for pete’s sake take some personal responsibility for their driving. I feel bad for these poor people who this happened to but let’s all keep in mind that MNDot is removing snow as quick as they can with limited resources and a very limited budget. Maybe we need to point the finger at our government instead of our state workers. Either way, I can’t imagine falling off a bridge and my heart goes out to these people.

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