A railroad bridge involved in a crash that left one man dead Thursday has a history of accidents, a railroad official said Friday.
William Santee, 48, was killed when his pickup was crushed under a shipping container that fell off an Oklahoma National Guard transport truck as it passed under a railroad bridge on NE 23 between Sooner Road and Air Depot Boulevard.
The bridge, which is owned by the Stillwater Central Railroad, has been struck by passing vehicles in the past, said Tracie VanBecelaere, a spokeswoman for Watco Cos., Stillwater Central’s parent company. Although the company doesn’t know exactly how many times drivers have struck the bridge, officials know of at least a few such accidents, VanBecelaere said.
The company sends inspectors to check the bridge each time it’s struck, VanBecelaere said. In each case, including Thursday’s incident, inspectors have concluded the bridge is safe for rail traffic, she said.
The railroad bridge over NE 23 is part of the line expected to eventually carry passenger service between Midwest City and Sapulpa.
Oklahoma City resident Bill Williams, who said he has lived just west of the bridge for 20 years, said Thursday he cannot count how many times he has seen trucks with large loads hit the bridge or get stuck under it.
“Honestly, I’m surprised they haven’t raised it up or put more signs up,” Williams said.
Thursday afternoon’s accident occurred as the military transport was heading east on NE 23. As it passed under the bridge, the shipping container failed to clear and was yanked off the bed of the vehicle.
Santee was driving his pickup west and passed under the bridge at the same moment. The container crashed into and crushed his pickup, police reported. He was pronounced dead by police at the scene.
Lt. Col. Lindy White, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma National Guard, said the truck was carrying weight-lifting equipment from one armory to another. White wouldn’t comment on the details of the crash, but said Guard officials are offering “heartfelt prayers” for Santee’s family.
“This is definitely a tragedy,” she said.
Signs are posted 1,000 feet from the bridge in both directions showing the bridge clearance — 13 feet, 9 inches. Brenda Perry, a spokeswoman for the state Transportation Department, said officials are considering posting a second set of signs closer to the bridge.
Perry said the bridge’s actual clearance rate is closer to 14 feet, 1 inch. Transportation Department officials often post a lower clearance height than the actual height of the bridge out of caution, Perry said. Officials check bridge heights during routine bridge inspections to make sure posted clearance heights are accurate even after crews repave a roadway, she said.
Contributing: Staff Writer Jonathan Sutton