2014-01-03 / Front Page

Driver in Pell Bridge Crash Dies

By Tom Shevlin

An elderly driver who was involved in a head-on collision on the Newport Pell Bridge on Christmas Eve has succumbed to his injuries.

Police say that Elijah Swift, 75, of Exeter suffered serious injuries after his pickup truck crossed the center line of the bridge shortly after 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 24.

Traveling in his path was Warwick resident, William Oberg, 25.

The accident, which is the second deadly crash on the bridge to occur in the last two years, prompted state police to stop traffic for more than an hour and renewed calls for the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to install a center median between the east and westbound lanes.

Swift, who was reportedly on his way to a choir performance in Newport, was transported to Newport Hospital before being transferred to Rhode Island Hospital, where he died from his injuries on New Year’s Eve.

Oberg, who had to be extracted from his sedan with the Jaws of Life, was airlifted to Rhode Island Hospital from the Newport Grand parking lot. At last check, he remained in serious condition.

The accident came just two weeks after Newport City Council members opted to continue a resolution that would have called upon RITBA to install a protective barrier on the bridge. The resolution, which has already found support from the Jamestown Town Council, was put forth by the families of Kathy Meunier and Kenneth Prior, who also lost their lives in a headon collision on the bridge in 2011.

City Councilors in Newport are expected to revisit the effort at their next meeting.

According to the resolution, “safe passage over the Pell Bridge by all users requires Rhode Island law enforcement officials to strictly enforce laws prohibiting speeding and distracted driving.”

It also notes that studies undertaken by RITBA have shown that there is a need to install a center median in order to prevent a “rising number of cross-over collisions.”

With more than 27,000 vehicles crossing the Pell Bridge every day, the span is one of the most heavily trafficked roads in the southern portion of the state.

Proponents of the barrier, who have started an online petition to raise awareness of the issue, say that industry standards typically dictate that a median barrier be placed on any road when more than 20,000 vehicle trips take place any day.

While RITBA officials have acknowledged exploring whether there is a need for a center median in the past, they also note that there is still engineering work that needs to be done to finalize any potential plans.

According to state police, between 1998 and 2011, there were 49 head-on crashes on the bridge of varying degrees of seriousness, or an average of 3.7 accidents per year.

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