A gate meant to protect motorists from driving into hazardous, high-water conditions on and around the Morgan Ford bridge in Warren County was left open on Sunday evening, leaving one man stranded in his vehicle on the bridge.
The road leading to and leaving the Morgan Ford bridge in Front Royal is prone to being washed out during high water, Ken Slack, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said. For this reason, gates were set up at the north and south ends of the road.
Slack said VDOT received calls earlier in the weekend about the gate being vandalized.
Warren County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Allen Smoot said the department is looking into why the gate was open and consulting VDOT. Smoot said he didn’t think the discussions warranted an “investigation.”
“We have some pretty heavy duty metal gates that we can close and lock in times of high water,” Slack said. “From what it sounds like...the gate was vandalized so somebody could get through it.”
Slack said he did not know whether the gate was vandalized close to the time of the accident on Sunday evening.
Warren County Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico said the gate was open when the driver approached on the washed out road.
“The way the approach is to the bridge, it comes up on you pretty quick,” Maiatico said. “When [the driver] reached the opposite side, the road was washed out, causing the vehicle to become stuck.”
Smoot said the vehicle involved in Sunday night’s accident did not have any damage and didn’t appear to be involved with the opening of the gate.
“We don’t know if the gate was left open or if the gate was actually damaged,” Smoot said. “That is undetermined at this point.”
Fire and rescue personnel responded to the scene and performed a “shallow water entry,” Maiatico said. No boats or motorized rescue equipment were used in the rescue.
According to Maiatico, the driver was the only occupant. the driver. He was uninjured but treated for cold water exposure. Because he was treated by emergency medical services, officials by law cannot release the driver’s name
Neither Slack nor Maiatico could confirm when or why the gate was opened.
“It does appear the gate was adequately secured at the time the bridge was closed,” Maiatico said, “but at a later time it was in an open position.”
Slack said drivers need to approach known high-water areas with caution. Just because signs are not up or gates are open, drivers need to be aware, he said.
“If the gate is open or it appears to be open that doesn’t mean there’s no danger ahead,” Slack said. “You have to pay attention.”