Post Falls, ID Bridge Collapses, Mar 1971
CAUSE OF SPOKANE RIVER BRIDGE COLLAPSE PROBED.
Post Falls, Idaho (AP) -- A new $500,000 bridge will be constructed over the Spokane River at Post Falls to replace an old wooden structure which collapsed during the weekend claiming one life.
ALLEN R. CHAFFIN, 29, Post Falls, drowned but two other men, HARRY BUTTON, a Post Falls policeman and WILLIAM R. JONES, 30, Post Falls, swam to safely after a 100-foot section of the bridge plunged into the icy river early Sunday.
Bovay Engineers, Inc., Spokane, has been hired by the Post Falls Highway District to determine what caused the bridge collapse, Roy Bodine, highway district chairman, said Monday.
Results of the study are expected midweek and bids for a new structure will be let within three weeks, Bodine said.
The bridge collapsed after BUTTON, with CHAFFIN riding along in the police car, responded to a report of a one-car accident on the narrow bridge.
A car driven by ALAN R. KELLY, 49, Post Falls, had spun out of control and struck a support near the center of the bridge, officers later reported.
JONES, first on the scene, said he removed KELLY from the car and summoned police.
BUTTON said when he and CHAFFIN arrived, KELLY was bleeding and needed an ambulance.
"I got back into the car, made a quick call and suddenly had the sensation of falling sideways. I pulled the car door shut just as the water rushed in," BUTTON said.
JONES was standing by the patrol car when the wooden structure collapsed, taking the police cruiser and KELLY'S vehicle with it.
JONES and BUTTON managed to surface but CHAFFIN apparently was trapped in the patrol car, investigators later reported. KELLY was lying on an area of the bridge that did not collapse.
Divers recovered CHAFFIN'S body a few hours later and the two cars were expected to be pulled from the river Monday.
"My only thought was 'it's over for me,'" said JONES. "I can't remember how I got back to the surface, but BUTTON was there and told me a catwalk was nearby. He helped me to it and I stayed there until we were rescued."
BUTTON said the Spokane River is very murky this time of year and that he was disoriented after surfacing.
"I wanted to go back and look for him (CHAFFIN), but I couldn't even see the car and didn't know where to start looking. I helped JONES and then climbed on some planks and girders of the bridge," said BUTTON.
BUTTON and JONES were plucked from the timbers by a boat about 50 minutes after the cave-in.
"Cars have been going over that bridge for years. It's old and the Post Falls Highway District has attempted to replace it," BUTTON said Sunday from his hospital bed.
JONES was treated and released but BUTTON was being treated for pneumonia and said he would be in the hospital for several days.
Walla Walla Union Bulletin Washington 1971-03-29