Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Bridge's faults help take a life

Lack of breakdown lane a factor

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Gentry Aubrey
As local leaders lobbied in Washington on Tuesday for money to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, a Burlington family finished plans to bury a law student killed over the weekend on the outdated span.

Gentry Aubrey, 24, was a law clerk for Cincinnati lawyer Stan Chesley. He led Northern Kentucky University's moot court team with his soon-to-be fiancee. He was the organizer - with his grandmother - of the family's weekly football betting pool.

"That's the kind of life that's snuffed out on an old bridge," said Peter LeFaivre, Gentry's stepfather. "They can tell that story in Washington."

The overcrowded bridge's lack of breakdown lanes helped lead to the death, police said.

Aubrey recently moved in with some friends in Covington, telling his family it was time for him to move out of their home and grow up a little. He and his girlfriend, Chrissy Dunn, talked about getting married and having children. He wanted to be a sports agent.

But Aubrey was fatally injured early Saturday in a four-vehicle, chain-reaction wreck that started when a car broke down in the right lane.

How the accident unfolded (PDF document)
Collision Course: an Enquirer investigation into the dangers of the Brent Spence Bridge.
Police say Aubrey, driving while Dunn dozed, slowed to avoid hitting the car ahead of him and was rear-ended by another vehicle. When Aubrey and the driver behind him got out and walked between their two cars to check the damage, a van slammed into the third car - pinning Aubrey and the other driver.

It was the second fatality on the Ohio River bridge in just over a year. In January 2003, a Covington man whose car stalled was killed when his Dodge Shadow was hit from behind by a semi-tractor trailer. That accident also happened in the southbound lanes.

Local authorities have talked for years about replacing the Brent Spence. It's one of 15 major U.S. bridges designated "functionally obsolete" for failure to meet current design standards. Of those, it ranks No. 7 for highest accident rates.

The Brent Spence was built with extra lanes into which broken-down vehicles could pull over. But the breakdown lanes were converted years ago to help the overburdened bridge handle more traffic.

Without a breakdown lane, there's simply no place to go on the bridge if your car breaks down, said Lt. Col. Mike Kraft, a Covington assistant chief.

The driver of the van who hit the two men, Geoffrey Mayberry, 33, of Ludlow, is charged with assault, leaving the scene and driving on a license that had been suspended because of a previous drunken-driving conviction. Police met Tuesday with Commonwealth Attorney Bill Crockett to discuss upgrading the charge to murder.

"This guy, I guess we just couldn't convince him not to drive,'' Kraft said. "We feel like that certainly shows wanton conduct.''

Aubrey's friends and family will gather tonight at Linnemann Funeral Home in Burlington. His funeral will be Thursday at Lakeside Christian Church, Lakeside Park, and his body will be buried that afternoon at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell.

Those who loved him are wondering how they'll get past missing the man who still called his mother, principal of Summit View Elementary School in Independence, nearly every day.

The family donated several of Aubrey's major organs - something Dunn told his parents she knew he would have wanted. They'd talked about it.

"They had their plans made for their life," said Aubrey's uncle, Bob Silvanik, of Lexington. "They were so mature about their relationship. You just don't see that in a lot of 24-year-olds."

Aubrey's latest grades arrived in the mail Monday, showing him in the top third of his law school class.


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