911 callers alerted authorities days before netting collapse on Don Holt Bridge

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A spokesperson with the South Carolina Highway Patrol says the agency contacted the Department of Transportation Sunday after receiving a call about a concern on the Don Holt Bridge painting project regarding the tarps.

Additionally, law enforcement agencies became aware of the possible instability of the tarps on the bridge as early as Sunday, according to the contents of a 911 call released Thursday by Charleston County authorities.

The call made to dispatchers at 3:45 p.m. Sunday, highlighted the concern of one driver traveling over the bridge.

"The Don Holt bridge, where they've covered it up for painting it, the top cover is flapping," the caller said. "It's a huge canvas. I think it could come completely loose and hit cars and cause havoc and lives lost."

The driver continues to share details with the dispatcher about what he's seeing.

"It's flapping pretty bad and if it completely tears loose it could do one or two things," he said. "It could go in the river, that wouldn't be so bad. But if it lands in the highway, it could cover several cars in both directions. That would be bad."

That netting collapsed onto the roadway at approximately 5:10 p.m. Wednesday, trapping several vehicles underneath, police said. Early estimates claimed between 10 and 12 cars had been trapped, but SCDOT spokesperson James Law said it appeared seven cars had actually been trapped beneath the tarp.

"It's nothing that a policeman can do," the caller told the dispatcher Sunday. "You need to get ahold of highway department and the crew that put that canvas on the bridge, and get them to go up there and secure it."

In the 911 recording, the dispatcher told the driver he would contact Highway Patrol and inform them of his concern.

Charleston County spokeswoman Kelsey Barlow-Roland said Thursday the 911 call taker informed Highway Patrol dispatch immediately after the call was disconnected. According to Barlow-Roland, Highway Patrol dispatch informed the Charleston County call taker they had received a similar call earlier in the day, and it was determined the cable and netting were secured. However, the Highway Patrol dispatcher reportedly told Charleston County that someone would be sent back out.

Highway Patrol spokesman Trooper Bob Beres confirmed Thursday afternoon the agency contacted SCDOT.

Charleston County officials also released another 911 call Thursday afternoon, this one made Sunday at 12:55 p.m.

"The wind is blowing it all loose," said the caller. "It's going all over that covered area and it's going to end up on people's cars."

An SCDOT spokesman and the Deputy Secretary of Engineering said they were not aware of any calls made to the department regarding concerns of the tarps being unsecured, however, officials are investigating.

Calls to Eagle Industrial Painting, LLC, of Ohio, the company awarded the contract to repaint the bridge, were not immediately returned.

According to SCDOT documents, Eagle Industrial was the lowest bidding contractor out of nine other companies across the United States. Their bid came in at $9.5 million dollars for the work on the Don Holt.

An SCDOT spokesman said an investigation is expected to get underway between the contractor and engineers to figure out what happened, how it happened, and why it happened.

"It's certainly a unique event with the storm that came in, winds upwards of 70 miles per hour," said Deputy Secretary of Engineering Leland Colvin. "Certainly a unique event that caused this unfortunate incident."

Colvin added all damages to the car involved in the accident will be handled by SCDOT and the contractor.

"More information on filing claims will be released soon," he said.

A spokesperson for SCDOT added this is the first and only contract Eagle Industrial Painting has had with the department.

Tarps remained on the sides of the bridge as of Thursday afternoon.

Crews will work on removing the remaining canvas, but the timeline for that work has not been confirmed.

The remaining lanes of travel that had been closed since the collapse reopened on the bridge at approximately 9:47 a.m. Thursday after crews worked through the night to remove the tarps and debris.

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