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Bridge replaces one where family of six died in 1990

October 12, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - The Allensville Road low water crossing over Back Creek near Hedgesville, W.Va., was the second most "lethal" structure statewide when it was closed soon after a motorcyclist died there in 2004, a Division of Highways official said Wednesday.

In December 1990, six members of a Berkeley County family died when the car they were riding in was swept off the structure, DOH area engineer Bill Shanklin recounted at a dedication ceremony held for the crossing's replacement - the Allensville Memorial Bridge. The accident happened Christmas night or early the next morning, according to published accounts.

"Seven souls have been lost on the old bridge," Shanklin said. "We're very happy to get rid of a safety hazard like that."

The old crossing built in the late 1950s or early '60s with 15 culvert pipes and topped with concrete was replaced with a 349-foot bridge at a cost of $1.99 million in state money, Shanklin said.

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The new span opened to traffic in February. Shanklin credited Hedgesville-area resident Sherry Evasic for prodding state highway officials to replace the crossing, which Shanklin said did not meet the state's definition of a bridge.

"I didn't mention it, but she hounded the hell out of the politicians, too," Shanklin said after the ceremony, which included remarks by 2nd District Congressional candidate Mike Callaghan, state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, and Berkeley County Commission President Howard L. Strauss. Unger's opponent, Jerry Mays, Republican state lawmakers Craig Blair and Walter Duke of Berkeley County, and John Reisenwebber, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's representative in Martinsburg, also attended the ceremony.

"You can't forget what happened ... none of us had a good Christmas," Evasic said of the 1990 tragedy after she tossed one of seven small bouquets into the stream in memory of those who died.

Evasic said she knew one of the three children who died. Police identified the victims as members of the Wiesner family. Four of the victims resided in Montevilla Hills subdivision off Cherry Run Road and were returning home from a Christmas day celebration in Baltimore, police had said. And on March 7, 2004, William Edwards Jr., 25, of Hedgesville, apparently drowned in the creek when the motorcycle he was riding tipped over, according to published accounts.

Evasic hoped the ceremony, combined with a plan to place a small cross and plant perennial flowers at the bridge site will show surviving family members "that our community does care."

Unger said he hoped to get legislation passed next year to officially name the structure - Allensville Memorial Bridge - in honor of those who died and the community that rallied to get the structure replaced.

"It's truly a memorial to what a community can do when they come together," said Unger, echoing the sentiments of Strauss, who preceded him in the program.

"Many a years ago, I would take my four-wheel drive to make sure I could pass through," Strauss said of the crossing, which often flooded. A canoe launch site now is available to the public in place of the old crossing, but a yellow road sign warning of "high water" in black letters still remained in place east of the new bridge Wednesday.

"I think we can tell the Department of Highways they can take that down now," said John B. Christensen, who directed the ceremony.

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