Bridge Recovery Work Yields 14 Bodies

The body of a 3-year-old girl was recovered Wednesday from the Arkansas River half a mile downstream from the site of a bridge collapse that has claimed at least 14 lives, including the girl's parents.

The body of Shea Nicole Johnson of Lavaca, Ark., was found floating on the surface of the river about 11 a.m., said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Civil Emergency Management.

The bodies of her parents, Misty Johnson, 28, and James Johnson, 30, had been recovered Monday. The family was traveling to Tulsa when their car plummeted into the river through a 500-foot gap in an Interstate 40 bridge created by a barge that was out of control.

Ooten said the medical examiner had determined that all but one of the victims had drowned. Cause of death for Army Capt. Andrew Clements was blunt trauma of the head, she said.

Meanwhile, divers used fuel slicks on the surface of the river to try to find more vehicles and bodies. The giant claw of a crane hoisted chunks of concrete and pieces of cars from the murky waters.

Oklahoma National Guard Troops combed the tree-lined banks of the river for clothing, books and other personal items that escaped from vehicles after they plunged 62-feet into the water off I-40.

Skid marks on a section of the collapsed bridge don't stop before the edge.

Wednesday was the first hot, dry day since a barge slammed into the bridge just before 8 a.m. Sunday. Divers were kept out of the water for hours Monday and Tuesday because of rain and lightning.

In addition to the bodies, workers have pulled 10 vehicles from the water, many of them mangled with busted-out windows.

As they remove each body, rescuers stand in somber vigil and pray — thankful at least that the victim's family has a body. Grief counselors are nearby.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators planned on Wednesday to interview towboat Capt. Joe Dedmon, who initially told authorities he blacked out just before the crash.

The captain's doctor and attorney refused to allow NTSB investigators to talk to Dedmon on Tuesday, said Ken Suydam, chief investigator for the collapse. The NTSB did interview the towboat's five other crew members, who said they tried to rescue victims but their skiff got caught in a load of hoses that spilled out of a tractor-trailer rig.

Suydam said one crew member said he visited Dedmon in the wheelhouse five to 10 minutes before the crash and he appeared normal. The towboat's engines were running at full speed — 6 or 7 mph — when the barge rammed into the bridge, Suydam said.

The crew made two 911 calls to the Coast Guard, sounded a bell alarm and launched the skiff.

Suydam said he has Dedmon's medical records and that Dedmon's blood and urine samples are being tested for any drugs in his system.

State officials said it will cost about $15 million and as long as six months to repair the bridge. They asked travelers to avoid far eastern Oklahoma. Signs along the interstate warn miles in advance that the road is ending, kicking drivers onto winding two-lane highways through the hilly eastern Oklahoma farmlands of corn and cattle.

Traffic snarls through tiny towns along the detour.

In Gore, state Department of Transportation workers were tearing up a curb so semis could make a tight curve in the center of town. Traffic backed up over the railroad trucks as a steady stream of out-of-town vehicles slowed past a snow cone stand in the "trout capital of Oklahoma."

"We are a small, sleepy town," said city maintenance supervisor Dana Tracy. "Gore wasn't made to handle this."

Tracy said two cars were nearly "cut in half" by trains, and a semi sitting on the tracks busted the railroad crossbar.

The police chief directed traffic pouring across a bridge just north of the collapsed one.

"The locals can't get used to this," said Pat Young, a flower shop owner.