A Navy veteran and father of two was buried Saturday after his vehicle plunged into a creek while driving over a bridge that was in poor condition and previously blocked, North Carolina troopers said.
Before his death, Phillip Paxson, 47, was returning home from his daughter’s 9th birthday party in Hickory, North Carolina, an hour northwest of Charlotte, on a “dark and rainy,” her mother-in-law Linda McPhee Koeing posted. on Facebook.
“The bridge had been destroyed…years ago and never repaired,” he wrote in the Oct. 3 post.
The bridge is on an unmaintained private road near a sign that says “state maintenance ends here,” local news station WCNC reported.
The crash happened around 11 p.m. Sept. 30 in Catawba County, North Carolina State Highway Patrol Senior Trooper Jeffrey Swagger told USA TODAY.
According to Swagger, troopers responded to a report of a vehicle in a creek on the morning of Oct. 1. At the scene they found a 2020 Jeep Gladiator upside down and partially submerged in water where the road washed away.
Paxson, who officers said was driving the Jeep, was found dead at the scene.
A preliminary investigation by officers found no indication that speed, drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash.
“The initial investigation identifies the contributing circumstance as missing a portion of the road,” Swagger said.
According to information obtained through the police investigation, the road where the accident occurred is not a roadway maintained by the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
“Supposedly this part of the road collapsed several years ago when a culvert caved in,” Swagger wrote. “The previous barricades had apparently and reportedly been vandalized and removed.”
Investigators have not been able to determine whether Paxson was following or using any GPS while driving, Swagger said.
“He uses Google Maps, but I have no idea if he used their directions,” the victim’s widow, Alicia Paxson, told USA TODAY on Saturday.
Earlier this week he shared photos of the bridge on his Facebook page and wrote. “I want everyone to be aware of what a preventable tragedy this is.”
“This was a completely preventable accident,” Paxson’s mother-in-law also wrote. “We mourn his death.”
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.