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Man accused of damaging structure makes court appearance

The driver accused of causing the crash that damaged an I-beam on the Ben Williamson Bridge, forcing its closure, pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges.

Dennis J. Smith, 59, of South Point, made his pleas in front of Ironton Municipal Judge O. Clark Collins on Monday on charges of failure to control and leaving the scene of an accident. Collins set a bond of $10,000 for Smith and appointed Paul Knipp as his attorney.

On May 17, a vehicle hit one of the vertical I-beams near the Ohio side of the bridge that normally carries traffic into Kentucky.

At first Kentucky Transportation Cabinet allowed cars over the bridge, banning only heavy trucks.

However, within a week the bridge was closed to all traffic with vehicles rerouted over one lane of the three-lane Simeon Willis Bridge that carries traffic into Ohio only.

According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Smith was driving a 1987 Mack semi tractor-trailer loaded with scrap metal at the time of the crash. The truck continued into Kentucky without stopping or reporting the crash according to the OSHP. The truck is owned by L.R. Daniels Transportation in Ashland, Ky.

Failure to control is a minor misdemeanor while leaving the scene is a class one misdemeanor that has a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and six months in jail.

The transportation cabinet recently awarded the repair work contract to Evers Welding Co. of Cincinnati, who offered a bid of $52,400 for the job of replacing the damaged beam. That bid was $14,100 under the engineer’s estimate.

“Technically the project is underway,” said Allen Blair, public information officer of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “A great deal of the project consists of manufacturing that steel beam and getting equipment ready to go. A lot of this work will be behind the scenes. There will be a lot that is not visible until the time to replace that steel beam. While people may not see any work, there is work going on. We still have a July 31 completion date on the contract.”