NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The southbound span of the Causeway was shut down for about an hour and 20 minutes Wednesday (May 15), so that officials could remove a pickup truck that went into the lake the day before.
The driver survived but now faces a number of charges.
Bridge officials were also replacing a torn out guardrail, which will soon become a thing of the past.
Lake Pontchartrain was calm as divers spent much of Wednesday morning searching for the white pickup truck in the water, near mile marker 18.7.
Causeway workers shut down the southbound span at 11 a.m. Then, a tow truck lowered its hook into the water, which divers brought down 14 feet -- to the bottom of the lake where the submerged truck was resting.
Causeway Police Chief Nick Congemi said the truck was easier than expected to remove from the water.
“This was one of the very few [crashes] where it sat upright and they had enough room to get out. It was a rare situation,” Congemi said.
Officials said the truck slammed into two guardrails before falling into Lake Pontchartrain, with Clarence Abner, Kylie Sawyer and a dog still inside the vehicle. With the help of officer Christian Coyle, the two were able to escape the sinking truck. Coyle watched on as workers recovered the waterlogged truck.
Coyle, who’s own father died in a Causeway accident when Coyle was 12-years-old, said he wanted to become a Causeway Police officer to help others -- which is exactly what he did Tuesday.
“They are definitely lucky to be alive, just me getting them out of the water and out of the truck,” Coyle said.
Now that the truck has been removed from the lake, bridge officers will investigate whether more charges will be brought against the driver, who admitted to looking at a GPS before the crash and is already facing several counts related to the accident, Congemi said.
“Careless operation, expired license, failure to register the vehicle not wearing a seatbelt,” Congemi said.
Police said the accident points to the need for safety improvements currently underway on the Causeway. Guard Rails have already been removed near the toll plaza on the north bridge, and within a year they will be raised 25 inches on both sides of the southbound span.
Congemi said he is “very eager” for the project to be complete.
“It will be interesting to see how it does impact these things, otherwise we wouldn’t be spending millions on something like this,” he said.
In the meantime, huge cranes are in place building a dozen 1,000-foot emergency safety pull-out bays, according to Carlton Dufrechou, the general manager of the Causeway.
“The deck sections, the first 18 are already completed at Almonaster," Dufrechou said. “The first shoulder should be in by August.”
Tuesday’s crash marked the 15th overboard accident in the past five years, 90 percent of which were on the southbound span where the guardrails are lower. Eleven of the crashes were fatal.
The total cost of the causeway improvements is $100 million and is being paid for by toll increases. The work is expected to be done in two years.