MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson addressed for the first time the tragic accident that resulted in an elderly man falling to his death from a raised bridge in the city’s downtown on Monday.
The operator of the bridge, who did not work on the bridge where the death happened but viewed the bridge from several cameras, is now on leave as the city looks into the matter. The victim was identified as Richard Dujardin, a retired newspaper reporter from Rhode Island who was in Milwaukee on vacation with his wife.
Authorities say they were crossing the bridge when it began to rise. The victim tried to catch up to his wife but had to grab ahold of the bridge as it rose 90 degrees into the air. After holding on for several minutes the victim fell to his death, the medical examiner says.
Richard Dujardin and his wife Rose-Marie.
The foremost question that remains is if there is anything wrong with how Milwaukee operates their bridges and if so, how the city could make sure it never happens again.
Mayor Johnson admitted he did not have those answers now, just three days after the tragedy. His mind was on the victim and the family he leaves behind.
“First and foremost, when this happened, my mind has been focused on the family. It was just a horrific incident that happened. My condolences go out to the man, his wife, his family back in Rhode Island. My heart breaks for what happened to them. It really really does,” Johnson said.
“If there is anything that needs to change in our processes, we will of course evaluate those things and of course look to make changes if those things are required. I think the important thing to do though is remember the life that was lost. Unfortunately this tragic and freak accident,” the mayor said.
[Watch the mayor’s comments in the video at the top of this report]
Milwaukee’s movable bridges
About half of the city’s moveable bridges are controlled remotely which DPW has described as a safe and standard industry practice.
“I’ve been here since 1977. I’ve never heard of a pedestrian-related incident where someone was on a bridge when it was opening,” Ald. Bob Bauman (4th District) said besides Mayor Johnson.
Bauman described what happened to Richard as horrific. He pointed out that Milwaukee moved to remotely control some bridges due to labor costs several years ago. As of late, the bridges overall are opening more often. City data showed there were 27,769 openings in 2021 compared to just roughly 20,247 in 2019.
Despite decades of safe bridge openings, the alderman says Richard’s horrific death warrants a review at the department of public works.
“They’re very good people in public works. I know they’re extremely crestfallen over this incident having taken place,” Bauman said.
“Obviously we’re going to have to review the procedures and where all the procedures followed. Can we put in additional safety features that one sure that no one‘s ever caught on a bridge again while it’s being lifted.”
DPW declined TMJ4 News’ interview requests.
The department did say that the operator was fully trained and had been on the job for 4 years. That operator was put on leave and connected to the city’s counseling program while the investigation is ongoing.
Department of Public Works latest update
DPW said Wednesday that a bridge house is responsible for multiple bridges but only one bridge should be moving at a time.
DPW provided an update regarding its bridges following Monday’s incident.
According to DPW, the Water Street Bridge House operates the bridges on Water, Kilbourn, and 6th Street north and south. DPW said in a news release, “An operator uses a real-time video feed to inspect each bridge before, during and after the opening. And each bridge house is dedicated to specific bridges i.e. multiple operators are not overseeing the same bridge.”
When the Kilbourn bridge opens, DPW says first the horns sound for marine traffic, then the bells sound for vehicular and pedestrian traffic, then lights flash and traffic gates go down, and then the bridge will open.
DPW operates 20 moveable bridges in the city. Ten of the bridges are controlled by a solo operator at a remote location. DPW says each bridge house is responsible for its adjacent street and one or two other streets.
“Staffing-wise the schedule is to have five bridge houses manned at least 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Of these, four bridge houses are 24/7,” DPW said. “Some bridges are operated more frequently than others based on the needs of the water traffic.”
Richard Dujardin, right, and his wife.
The victim: Richard Dujardin of Providence, Rhode Island
The 77-year-old man who died while crossing a drawbridge in Milwaukee has been identified as Richard Dujardin of Providence, Rhode Island.
On Monday, Richard and his wife Rose-Marie were walking across the bridge on their last day of vacation in Milwaukee.
A report from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office stated Rose-Marie made it to the end but Richard was about halfway through when it began to rise.
The lights and bells were going off and the protective arms came down. Authorities said Richard was looking at an iPad while walking and that he was hard of hearing, and it is believed he did not notice the alerts.
Richard hung onto a railing but fell 71 feet.
Richard and Rose-Marie were married for 54 years. The couple had six children together. Some of their kids, now adults, spoke glowingly of their father.
“He got a kick out of the little things in life. He loved to laugh. He loved a free meal at Denny’s. He loved traveling,” said daughter Julianne Grew.
“He accomplished a lot, but he never praised himself,” said daughter Joelle Dujardin.
“He really loved my mom. The last thing he said to me was that my mom was a hero,” Richard’s son Jean-Paul recalled.
“I’m a dad too and I try to be like my own father,” said his son Philip.
Richard was an award-winning reporter for 47 years at The Providence Journal in Rhode Island, mainly covering religion.
“One of his favorite moments in life was meeting Pope John Paul II in person and giving him cards that my siblings had made for him. He was very proud of that moment,” Grew said.
Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip