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Front Royal teens killed in river crash

The Warren Sentinel

FRONT ROYAL, Aug. 3 — Two young men were killed and a 49-year-old man was hospitalized after the car they were in flipped as it went off the low-water bridge on Morgan Ford Road into the Shenandoah River Saturday night.

Driver Coty James Ferguson, 18, and passenger Robert Allen Jeffries, Jr., 17, died in the crash.

A second passenger, Tony William Hatfield, was taken to Warren Memorial Hospital, then to the Winchester Medical Center, according to Virginia State Police information officer Sgt. F.L. “Les” Tyler.

According to state police, Ferguson was driving a 1995 Honda south on Morgan Ford Road in northeastern Warren County just after 11 p.m. As the car went out onto the one-lane bridge, it went to the right off the upstream side of the bridge, overturned and landed in the water.

According to a report from Warren County Fire Chief Richard Mabie, a passing motorist “entered the water, breaking out a car window, and pulling one occupant of the vehicle from the car and the water.”

Mabie said that while Hatfield had “extreme respiratory distress,” he was “conscious and breathing.”

As members of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office arrived, Mabie said, a deputy went into the water to get one of the teens out of the car and helped remove the other.

Both were in “cardiac and respiratory arrest” and CPR was immediately started by deputies and civilians, Mabie said.

When Warren County Fire and Rescue units got to scene of the accident, they took over patient care, assisted by other deputies, Mabie said.

Medic units from Frederick and Clarke counties as well as Mount Weather were dispatched to assist with the accident. In addition to Warren Fire Stations 10, 6, 5, and special operations, other responding agencies included the Virginia State Police and dive teams from Frederick Station 11 and the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Warren units included stations, 10-6-Special Ops Team, 5 and Chief Mabie.

Trooper C.T. Maddox is investigating the crash, Tyler said.

“He's looking into all contributing factors, including speed and alcohol,” Tyler said. “He did say that weather was not a factor.”

According to Tyler, Maddox said the fog was “just starting to come in” when he arrived at the scene of the accident.

Saturday's tragedy marks the second and third deaths at the bridge in just over three years.

On March 30, 2010, Jessica Lynn Barr, 21, of Stephens City drowned in her car after she drove onto the bridge at night with nearly two feet of water flowing over it and was swept downstream.

Gates that are closed when the river is running over the bridge were installed at either end after Barr's death. The gates were open and the water was not over the bridge on Saturday.

Built in 1925, the bridge is beyond repair according to Virginia Department of Transportation officials and is scheduled to be replaced with a $7.3 million two-lane bridge elevated seven feet above the water.

The current bridge is 321-feet long. Possible advertisement for construction of the new 460-foot bridge is slated for the spring of 2016.

Public reaction to the construction plans has been mixed. Opponents of the new bridge say the area near the low-water bridge is a favorite spot for fishermen and families seeking inexpensive outdoor fun on the weekends. Others are concerned about increased traffic with a two-lane bridge.

Last November, Ron Tabor, a project manager with VDOT, said the current bridge does not meet federal or state regulations.

“Quite frankly, it would not take much for that bridge to be closed permanently,” Tabor said in 2012. “That deck, as soon as it's downgraded a little bit more, the bridge will have to be closed.”

Once they reach an age when replacement is necessary, all one-lane bridges in Virginia are being replaced with larger two lane-bridges, he said. Building a two-lane bridge the same height as the current bridge would cause an unacceptable elevation of the flood plain, which is why the new bridge will be seven feet above the water, Tabor said.

Richard Traczyk, the Warren County Supervisor who represents the Shenandoah District, which includes the Morgans Ford Bridge, said Aug. 6 that the drownings underscore the need to replace the bridge.

“I'm not sure how many people need to die before we get full support to have this done,” Traczyk said.

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