Crash by teen driver blamed for extended bridge closure

Repairs will be made to a Warren County bridge damaged when a teen crashed his car while “hill hopping’’, but no additional road improvements are planned for the area, officials said.

RELATED: Teens injured in Warren County crash

The bridge was closed following the accident involving five teens on Jan. 5. It isn’t expected to reopen until warmer temperatures allow crews to complete the job, expected to take about a week, according to the Warren County Engineer’s Office.

Since August 2014, records show there have been five crashes at the bridge, three caused by unsafe speed, according to the Warren County Engineer’s office.

“The incidents resulting in damage in that location have been due to failure to follow traffic laws, high speed. It is absolutely a safety issue for vehicles to be travelling well over the speed limit,” Savannah Shafer, public information officer for the engineer’s office, said in an email response to questions about plans for safety improvements.

RELATED: Warren County unable to find millions needed for roads

Crashes at the bridge are sometimes attributed to drivers intent on “hill jumping” or “hill hopping,” according to nearby residents, motorists and Ohio State Patrol.

Near the crash site, eastbound Shawhan Road descends, with two dips, to the bottom of the west fork of Halls Creek before climbing out of the gully past the Workshops of David T. Smith and dead-ending into Waynesville Road in Salem Twp., Warren County.

Eric Johnson, who lives nearby and regularly travels the bridge, wondered about leveling the dips leading down to the creekbed to reduce the hazard, but Lt. Chuck O’Bryon, commander of the Lebanon Post of the Ohio Highway Patrol said the road is safe, provided drivers observed the speed limit.

This stretch of Shawhan Road is not among Warren County’s busiest, running through a rural residential area east of Lebanon.

“A lot of kids who go to school out here, they get their drivers licenses and they jump these hills,” said Johnson, who lives along Shawhan near the crash site. “I don’t even like going the speed limit on that road, it’s so narrow.”

Hill-hopping involves cars speeding down the stretch of the road leading to a bridge and leaving the ground after they clear the bumps in the road, according to interviews and the Ohio Highway Patrol incident report for the Jan. 5 crash.

The road section leading to and from the bridge over the west fork of Halls Creek has been closed since about 7 p.m. on Jan. 5.

The crash occurred when the 2012 Mazda M6 driven by a South Lebanon teen “went airborne, drove off the right side of the road, over corrected, drove off the left side of the road, drove through a guard rail, rolled and landed in a frozen creek bed,” according to the crash report.

The Mazda was estimated to have been traveling at least 74 mph in a 45 mph zone in icy conditions, according to the report.

Three teen-age passengers were ejected and all four passengers, ranging in age from 15 to 19, were treated, two for incapacitating injuries, according to the crash report. They are all out of the hospital, according to authorities.

One passenger, 15, of South Lebanon, said in his statement that they were “hill-hopping headed to WalMart.” Another, 19, of Camden, said “we jumped the hill and we hit a guardrail.”

The 17-year-old driver, who was not treated or tested for alcohol use, is facing two counts of vehicular assault in Warren County Juvenile Court, according to the report and court records.

The driver’s privileges are suspended, while the case is pending in juvenile court. He has denied the vehicular assault charges.

The next pretrial hearing is set for Monday.

Last week, the Warren County Engineer’s Office contracted for the bridge’s repair for $22,000. Now the county is waiting for a week-long stretch of temperatures of at least 40 degrees to complete the work.

The driver’s insurance is expected to pay for the bridge work.

Meanwhile the road will remain closed, which Johnson said costs him and his neighbors an estimated 15 minutes every time they head out on a trip that would otherwise cross the bridge.

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