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Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
A rig hoists a pickup truck out of the Maumee River, where it had plunged Thursday after crashing through the limestone railing of the Tecumseh Street bridge. Two bodies were recovered from the truck.

How, when fatal bridge crash happened is still a mystery

The Journal Gazette

A man and woman drowned Thursday morning after the pickup truck that was carrying them across the Tecumseh Street bridge crashed through a limestone railing and plunged into the Maumee River, authorities said.

A commuter driving over the bridge, which links the Lakeside and East Central neighborhoods, noticed that part of the railing was missing from a point on the bridge deck that's 25 to 30 feet above the water. That person called 911 shortly before 7:30 a.m., and rescue divers found the white Dodge truck underwater, upside down, city fire officials said.

The divers pulled two people from the cab of the truck and brought them to shore, where they were pronounced dead. The deceased were identified as Mark Wayne Staulters, 53, and Tamee Ann Staulters, 44, both city residents, according to the Allen County Coroner's Office. The two were divorced in 2011, court records show.

The coroner's office confirmed that they had drowned, but it has not yet ruled on whether the crash was an accident, so it was unclear whether foul play was involved.

City police did not immediately find any witnesses to the crash. Investigators were trying to determine when the wreck happened and what caused it, authorities said.

And while it's not clear who was driving the truck, Indiana court records show that Mark and Tamee Staulters each had two convictions for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The pickup truck broke through the west railing and plummeted off the south half of the bridge – right next to the spot where another vehicle busted through the railing in July.

In that fatal crash, the driver, 23-year-old Irvin Gates, lost control of a vehicle as he went north across the bridge. He landed in the river, and rescuers soon pulled him from the water. His death was ruled an accidental drowning.

Dan Allen, chief projects manager for the Allen County Highway Department, said that after the July crash – in which speed was a factor – city and county officials examined the safety of the bridge and its approaches. They concluded that no changes were needed.

"It's well within design criteria for the posted speed limit," he said.

Allen, who's spent 38 years with the highway department, could not recall any other crashes on the bridge like the two fatal ones this year.

"We'd like to assure the traveling public it's not a death trap out there by any means," he said of the 113-year-old bridge.

To make it into the river, a vehicle on the bridge has to jump an 8-inch curb, cross a sidewalk and plow through a limestone railing. Allen said he has no concerns about the sturdiness of the railings, which were replaced in 2010 as part of a restoration.

After the July crash, a steel guardrail was installed in place of the 20-foot section of railing that had been destroyed. Allen said the same will happen with the section of railing lost in Thursday's crash.

Eventually, those steel guardrails will be replaced with limestone railings to match the rest of the bridge. He estimates that will cost $50,000 to $70,000.

Because the Tecumseh Street bridge is part of a traffic detour during the reconstruction of the North Anthony Boulevard bridge, officials will consider fixing the damage during a weekend or after the North Anthony bridge is finished in the spring, Allen said. The repair will require a lane closure.

After the crash Thursday, the Tecumseh Street bridge was closed to traffic. Parker's Towing used a rig to hoist the truck from the river. The truck belonged to Shawnee Construction & Engineering, a local firm that employed Mark Staulters for more than 20 years, company President Matt Schenkel said.

Schenkel said Staulters, a father of three, did various types of construction work and specialized in metal buildings. "He was an all-around good employee," Schenkel said.