North Carolina dad dies after driving on 'bridge to nowhere'

North Carolina dad dies after driving on 'bridge to nowhere'

A North Carolina father of two died after he traveled over a bridge that was destroyed nearly a decade ago in an accident that his family called “an avoidable tragedy.”

Philip Paxson, 47, was driving home in Hickory, North Carolina, on Sept. 30 when he crossed over the bridge. Officials and emergency responders arrived at the scene at around 9:45 a.m. on Oct. 1 and found a 2020 Jeep Gladiator "upside down and partially submerged in a creek in an area where the roadway had washed out," according to a news release shared with TODAY by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

Paxson was found dead inside the vehicle, and authorities believe the accident happened shortly after 11 p.m. on Sept. 30, according to the NCDPS.

Paxson's 2020 Jeep Gladiator near the bridge. (WCNC)
Paxson's 2020 Jeep Gladiator near the bridge. (WCNC)

Troopers told NBC affiliate WCNC that barriers warning drivers of the collapsed bridge ahead had apparently been moved.

Paxson's widow, Alicia Paxson, declined to immediately comment to TODAY, but wrote in a Facebook post that she wants to raise awareness for "what an avoidable tragedy this is."

"This was a known hazard. 2014!! Just an accident waiting to happen. Phil had to lose his life to bring awareness," she said in a post.

Paxson’s sister-in-law Kayla Bubar told WCNC: "He took a left and that left went to that bridge to nowhere, which is what they called it since 2013 when that bridge washed away and no one took responsibility to get that bridge fixed."

WCNC reports that officials have been trying to get federal and state funding to repair the roadway since 2013.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) told WCNC that his office attempted to get funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair the bridge in 2013 and 2016, but since the bridge is on a private road, it wasn't eligible for the funding.

FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TODAY asking to confirm McHenry's public safety cases.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation told WCNC it doesn't have the authority to make improvements because it is a private roadway, and Catawba County also said counties in North Carolina do not maintain private roads.

Eric Andrews, president of the Realtors Land Institute Carolinas chapter, told WCNC that local residents can petition for the state's transportation department to take over maintenance of the road — or they may have to take responsibility for the road themselves if they want it fixed.

“Phil did not deserve to die like that and it is a horrible thing to go through. His children now have no father,” Bubar told WCNC. “We are not going to let it go and we are going to find out who is responsible for it.”

Bubar created a GoFundMe for his funeral expenses, which has reached more than half of its $50,000 goal. Paxson is survived by his wife and two daughters, two sisters, a sister-in-law and many nieces and nephews, according to his obituary.

"This precious family lost a wonderful father, husband, son, and son-in-law," the obituary read. "He was larger than life, always ready for an adventure, with a permanent smile on his face. He would give you the shirt off his back or talk you out of the one on yours."

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