Coast Guard: Body of missing driver found in Pontchartrain after overboard accident

METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - The Coast Guard ended its search for a person in the water after the body was recovered in Lake Pontchartrain Wednesday.

A Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office marine unit recovered the deceased driver at 5 p.m.

Bridge officials said the accident plays up the need for a massive bridge improvement that could get underway in three months.

The  accident comes on the heels of several dangerous fog and ice days, and has bridge officials eager for a $103 million safety improvement program to begin.

The truck went off the southbound span, ripping out a quarter-mile-long section of guardrail along the way.

"One of the first things they will do is determine if it's anything mechanical," said Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou.

Recovery crews were out on the bridge at 4 a.m., marking the spot by skid marks and debris found the bridge. By sunrise they located fuel leaking from the vehicle and sent down divers. An hour later, tow trucks had the truck on the hook, but there was no driver inside.

"It's an ongoing search operation, and the investigation will follow," said Dufrechou.

The accident comes at the end of a rough two-week period for Causeway commuters and police. On  Jan. 11 in heavy fog, police handled seven crashes in less than an hour. Five days later the bridge was completely shut down due to heavy ice.

"We gotta bring it into the 21st century and that's the whole purpose of those improvements," said Dufrechou.

In three  months, the Causeway will put out to bid a $103 million improvement program, beginning with new 46-inch guardrails designed to block vehicles from going over the bridge.

"The rails are imperative. This is the sixteenth overboard on the southbound bridge. It's imperative to put improved rails on the Causeway," said Dufrechou, welling up with emotion.

Shortly after that, Causeway officials will also put out a bid to build 12 safety bays to allow broken-down vehicles to pull to the side and not risk other drivers.

"It's just as imperative to get segmented shoulders. We had 184 accidents on the bridge last year, a third of those were due to breakdowns on the bridge that couldn't get to existing crossovers," said Dufrechou.

Dufrechou says there have been 17 overboard accidents on the bridge in the last 20 years, including Wednesday's. He says 12 have been fatal.

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