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'Tragedy waiting to happen': Family calls for witnesses after man dies on Milwaukee drawbridge

Attorney Jay Urban held a press conference Wednesday morning next to the Kilbourn Avenue bridge where Richard Charles Dujardin died on Aug. 15.
dujardin.jpg
Posted at 8:35 AM, Sep 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-14 13:49:32-04

MILWAUKEE — An attorney representing the family of the former reporter who fell 70 feet to his death off a Milwaukee drawbridge urged witnesses to come forward and stressed the importance of an independent investigation into the bridges to make sure such a death never happens again.

Attorney Jay Urban held a press conference Wednesday morning next to the Kilbourn Avenue bridge where Richard Charles Dujardin died on Aug. 15. Urban emphasized that when a person is injured or dies in a municipal setting, a lawsuit cannot be filed until 120 days have passed. Urban said he will use the time to speak with witnesses of the bridge death and urged people who may have been witnesses to come forward to reveal what they believe happened.

"There is no closure unless you have answers," Urban said.

Urban also pointed out that they have yet to view footage from one video camera that overlooks the bridge. He claimed there are other cameras in the area but that they only take still photos and not video. Urban mentioned that Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chrisholm has already opened an investigation but that he is also urging state Attorney General Josh Kaul to do so as well.

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"This is a tragedy waiting to happen," Urban claimed. "Every day there isn't an independent investigation, there is another injury."
The attorney said the Kilbourn Bridge is probably the safer bridge in that stretch of the Milwaukee River because the other bridges rise in a flat but vertical fashion and would have made it impossible for the victim to yell out and get help. The Kilbourn Bridge meanwhile rises at a 90-degree angle.

That combined with a lack of signs identifying the bridges as raisable could cause problems for other people, especially tourists and people not familiar with the Milwaukee area, he said.

Richard Dujardin
Richard Dujardin, right, and his wife.
Richard Dujardin
Richard Dujardin, from Rhode Island, fell to his death on a Milwaukee drawbridge that raised while he was walking on it.

Urban said the man who died on the Milwaukee bridge, Dujardin, was a reporter for 44 years who previously interviewed one of the popes. He and his wife were in Milwaukee for an event honoring their volunteerism, and had been walking to that morning's mass when tragedy struck.

Urban claims if a proper investigation is not launched to identify problems with the bridges, that we should expect more deaths on the city's bridges.

Retired reporter dies in fall from Kilbourn Bridge in downtown Milwaukee

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office identified the victim as 77-year-old Richard Charles Dujardin. The victim's wife tells TMJ4 News that he was a reporter at the Providence Journal. They had six children and were married for 54 years.

The ME's report states the man and his wife were walking across the drawbridge when the bridge began to rise up. She was further ahead of him and he tried to catch up to her.

But he wasn't fast enough. He tried to grab onto a side rail but he lost his grip and fell 70 feet onto the pavement below.

The ME's report states that the bridge's lights, bells and arms came down at each end before the platform began to rise. But Dujardin was hard of hearing - "it is thought that he didn't notice them," according to the ME.

WATCH: Video appears to show a man on the Kilbourn bridge as it begins to rise.

Elderly man dies in fall from Kilbourn Avenue Bridge in downtown Milwaukee

When the bridge started to rise he panicked and grabbed onto the side rail. The bridge continued to rise until it was straight up at a 90-degree angle. He hung onto the railing for 1-2 minutes before falling.

The drawbridge is controlled by two city Department of Public Works workers. They have two cameras pointed at the bridge and have to check both before allowing the bridge to rise.

Interim Commissioner of Public Works Jerrel Kruschke said in a statement that their employee during the incident was "fully trained", in his fourth year as a bridge operator and had opened bridges hundreds of times.

That worker is now on leave in connection with the incident.

The bridge is controlled by DPW from a location on Water Street. The location controls several bridges, possibly seven of them, the ME's report states.

On the Milwaukee River camera, video appears to show a man on the Kilbourn Avenue Bridge as it starts to rise. The man then appears to attempt to walk back towards the base of the bridge.

Police and paramedics arrived on the scene shortly after 12 p.m.

Potential for a settlement

Authorities have not mentioned the potential for a financial settlement, but there is already precedent for deaths on bridges.

Our sister station WPTV reports from Palm Beach, Florida that the city reached a $8.2 million settlement after a 79-year-old woman died after a bridge suddenly opened while she was walking on it earlier this year.

Carol Wright died on Feb. 6 when she was walking her bike across the Royal Park Bridge and it suddenly started going up.

She was 10 feet away from the end of the bridge when she fell to her death through a gap in the road.

The bridge tender on duty at the time was arrested and faces a charge of one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence in Wright's death.

Wright's family filed a lawsuit in March against Florida Drawbridges Inc., (FDI) the operator of the bridge, seeking monetary damages and industry safety changes.

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