S.C. Bridge Damaged, Charges Filed

May 25, 2007

Two people on board a tug boat towing a barge that severely damaged a Beaufort County, S.C. bridge last month have been charged with misconduct and negligence, the Coast Guard said.

State transportation officials have said they plan to file claims asking anyone found responsible for damaging the bridge to pay for repairs.

The men were part of a Savannah Marine Services crew on the tug boat Sara Kaitlin towing a barge under the J.E. McTeer Bridge. A crane on the barge got caught on the underside of the bridge, damaging several steel beams, authorities said.

Wright Gres and William Van Puffelen are charged with two counts of misconduct and one count of negligence, according to the Coast Guard.

Gres was in charge of navigation for the Sara Kaitlin when it struck the bridge and Van Puffelen was the master of the tug. The men face a maximum penalty of 12 months suspension of their Coast Guard merchant mariner licenses.

The Coast Guard said its investigation into the incident continues and more charges could be filed. A final report on what caused the incident may not be released for several months.

The McTeer Bridge is only open for about eight hours a day as crews race to repair the damage.

The first of five steel beams was replaced and crews hope to reopen the entire bridge by the end of July, officials said.

The McTeer Bridge was one of two spans linking Lady’s Island to the rest of the state.

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