Witnesses tell story of bridge 'miracle'

A truck hangs off a bridge over the Tenn-Tom Waterway on Wednesday after a wreck on the Highway 50 bridge
Staff Writer

The driver of a pick-up truck that was broadsided and left teetering on a guardrail over the Tenn-Tom Waterway is "sore but doing fine," his family said Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, some of the first people on the scene during a driving rainstorm Wednesday afternoon tell a story of a series of events coming together to prevent the truck from toppling into the river as the driver, 73-year-old Nathan Osburn Jr. sat stuck behind the wheel.

"It was crazy, I've never seen anything like it," said Lauren Buntin, describing the "surreal" scene.

At about 4:40 p.m., she was on her way from her job in West Point to her home in Lowndes County and had been worried by the tires on her new car catching on rain-covered Highway 50.

As she came to the crest on the Highway 50 bridge over the Waterway, she and the car in front of her came upon the accident scene.

The victims were just beginning to get out of their trucks and the one driven by Osburn, a Dodge Ram, was hanging over the edge.

His passenger, 72-year-old Paul McGarity already was scrambling to get out.

They had been westbound when the truck hydroplaned, skidded across the highway into the guardrail and then bounced back into the middle of the eastbound lane, where it was t-boned by a Chevrolet Colorado driven by 65-year-old Larry White of West Point.
White's truck was rear-ended by Ford F-150 driven by 47-year-old James Logan of Caledonia, according to the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

"We were trying to make sure there weren't any serious injuries and trying to make sure the truck didn't fall. Every time the passenger leaned on the front, it would teeter a little and I would just hold my breath. I really was worried about the truck. And the driver kept wanting to get out. If I had been him I would have, too, but we were so worried if he moved too much, it would flip the truck off into the water. I can't imagine that," Buntin said.

"It was just about a miracle," she added at another point.
For Buntin, the scene was one she'd worried about many times before. Sometimes that worry crept into her dreams, including Tuesday night.
"I had a dream the night before about going off a bridge," she said.

An airman from Columbus Air Force Base had called 911 and sirens started coming in the distance as firefighters from Columbus Air Force Base, Lowndes County District 2 volunteers and Southeast Clay volunteers started racing to the scene.

Bystanders began to apply weight to the front of the pickup to try to keep it in place.
The driver of a Murphee Paving truck on his way to Hamilton, Miss., to pick up a load of asphalt managed to tie his rig to the Ram to make sure it didn't go anywhere.

Mike Pearson, who works at Gary's Gun and Pawn and also drives a wrecker for his father-in-law's towing service, got the call for a wrecker. He arrived to find the truck still teetering tied to the asphalt truck and firefighters and paramedics caring for the injured. He also found his friend, Nathan Osburn, still in his truck.
"Let me tell you, that asphalt driver doing that was big, he was instrumental," Pearson said of the stabilization it provided.

"He didn't have to do that. Some people would have been worried about the liability and just stayed out of it.
"It allowed me to get there with the wrecker and pull the truck off about four feet so we could get Mr. Osburn out. It helped me not to have to worry about something happening while I was towing the truck off the rail.
"It was just a lot of people coming together to help others," Pearson continued.

The drivers and passengers were treated for relatively minor injuries.
Reached at their home in Cedar Bluff Thursday afternoon, Lynda Osburn described her husband as "sore but fine," good news for dozens of friends and relatives who'd called and checked on him Wednesday night and Thursday.

And Pearson still marveled at the circumstances that came together.
For instance, Osburn's Dodge Ram pickup had what often is called a "Ranch Hand" bumper on the front instead of the standard bumper.

The modified piece weighs 150 to 200 pounds, Pearson said.
"That much extra weight helped keep it from going over the rail."
Osburn's truck also had two heavy tool boxes mounted along each side of the bed. Pearson said one was knocked free and ended up about 30 feet east on the Lowndes County side of where the pickup came to rest.
The other was nowhere to be found. Based on the smashed and broken tailgate, Pearson and others speculate the second tool box crashed through the tailgate and into the river.

"If those two heavy boxes had stayed in the bed of the pickup, that might have been enough weight to go ahead and pull it on over. He was being watched over," Pearson described.