A North Carolina father of two died after his daughter’s ninth birthday party, when his GPS put him on the path of a bridge that was washed away in 2013.
On September 30, Phil Paxson was driving home at night in the rain following his daughter’s birthday party in Hickory, North Carolina.
His now-widow, Alicia Paxson, had departed the party earlier with the couples’ daughters, while Phil stayed behind to help clean up.
‘How is it nine years that this did not happen, and why did it have to be him?’ wondered Alicia Paxson. ‘Like, why do my kids have to have no dad now, you know?’
‘Who’s responsible? Somebody is responsible,’ she said.
After celebrating the newly nine-year-old’s birthday at a family friend’s house, ‘we packed up all the decorations, he packed up the van, and he loaded the girls into the van,’ said Alicia.
‘He was following his GPS which led him down a concrete road to a bridge that dropped off into a river,’ wrote Paxson’s mother-in-law, Linda McPhoee Koenig, on Facebook.
‘The bridge had been destroyed 9 years ago and never repaired,’ continued his mother-in-law.
Furthermore, the entry point to the former bridge did not have any ‘barriers or warnings signs to prevent the death of a 47-year-old father of two daughters.’
‘It was a totally preventable accident,’ wrote Koenig.
The bridge was initially destroyed in a storm in July of 2013.
‘He took a left, and I took a right, and that was his mistake. One wrong turn, and now he’s gone.’
The North Carolina State Highway Patrol responded to a report of a vehicle in a creek at around 10.00am on Saturday October 1.
When troopers arrived at the scene, they discovered Paxson’s 2020 Jeep Gladiator upside down and partially submerged in the water.
Paxson had just purchased the Jeep three days prior.
Troopers said barricades that were put up to warn drivers of the collapsed bridge were apparently removed, leading to the crash.
Paxson was found dead inside the vehicle.
North Carolina State Patrol said the bridge was not controlled by local or state officials.
The area may have been the responsibility of the original developer, but the website of the North Carolina Secretary of State indicates that the developing company dissolved years ago.
A local property management company has said its preceding owner was the original developed. They are meeting with attorneys Friday to determine who is responsible for the road to the ravine.
Eric Andrews, the president of the Realtors Land Institute Carolinas chapter, told WCNC that the muddled question of who is responsible for the road is a relatively common problem.
Original owners ‘might go bankrupt,’ he said. ‘They might die, the company might not exist anymore. So you can’t have this expectation of some kind of developed or entity being responsible for that road in perpetuity.’
But getting the state to intervene is an uphill battle as well.
‘In North Carolina, counties do not maintain roads. In general, owners of private roads associated with subdivisions could be the subdivision developers, a homeowners association, or the property owners in the subdivision,’ Catawba County officials told WCNC Charlotte.
US Representative Patrick McHenry (R), whose congressional district includes parts of Catawba County, also tried to get federal resources to rebuild the bridge back in 2013 during a FEMA disaster declaration. But that plan didn’t work and subsequent efforts to secure funding to replace the bridge were also thwarted by the feds.
Phil’s family has established a GoFundMe to cover his funeral expenses, which has raised close to half of its $50,000 goal.
Phil leaves behind his wife Alicia, their two daughters, as well as his parents, two sisters, a sister-in-law, and a large handful of nieces and nephews.
‘Phil put his family first and his friends, almost equal, second. He was larger than life, always ready for an adventure, with a permanent smile on his face, he would give you the shirt off his back or talk you out of the one on yours,’ read one part of his obituary.
A memorial has sprouted up at the site of Phil’s crash that includes flowers and other tributes to his memory.