New Orleans police have retrieved the car that drove off North Claiborne Avenue's Judge Seeber Bridge into the Industrial Canal on Thursday, finding two dead men inside, officials said Friday.
Police did not identify either victim, saying one was 23 years old while the age of the other couldn't immediately be determined.
Authorities described the car they were in as a silver 2003 Mazda Tribute, conflicting with initial reports that a blue Jeep Cherokee had driven into the canal.
Police have said little about what exactly occurred Thursday. But an official with the state agency in charge of the bridge said a motorist heading upriver drove a car around a bridge worker's truck, barreled through a control arm and plunged into the void created when the drawbridge is raised, falling some 30 feet to murky water that is roughly 50 feet deep.
State Department of Transportation and Development spokeswoman Bambi Hall said the worker was parked in a truck at the base of the 60-year-old drawbridge on the Lower 9th Ward side to stop cars from driving onto the span while it was raised to allow a boat to pass. The motorist asked if he could go around the truck; he was told no, Hall said.
Bryan Richard, who said he witnessed the incident, said he saw the driver ignore the worker, plow through a control arm and then fall "straight in the water." Both he and Hall said there was no indication the driver tried to brake before plunging into the canal.
Police said the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office would determine causes of death for the men in the car and release the identities following an autopsy and family notification.
In the past decade, at least four people have been killed in three cars that drove off the bridge.
In May 2008, 17-year New Orleans Police Department veteran Tommie Felix plummeted off the bridge without realizing it had been raised. An investigation later concluded there were mechanical errors on the bridge, and the operator was accused of negligent homicide for allegedly failing to lower additional warning gates and failing to ensure the gates were down before lifting the bridge for marine traffic. Prosecutors later refused the case.
Nearly two years later, 46-year-old David Wayne Cox, of St. Bernard Parish, drove past a red warning light, barricades and cones at the foot of the bridge, which was raised and closed for repairs. He apparently did not try to brake. His girlfriend later told a reporter he was struggling with various troubles, including fear of losing his job.
New Orleans police recovered the vehicle that drove off the Judge Seeber Bridge on Thursday, which had two people inside.