GPS may have told couple to drive off Cline Avenue bridge

A dismantled portion of the ramp leading to the Cline Avenue Bridge is shown over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal in East Chicago in September 2012.

Jon L. Hendricks, The Times file photo

EAST CHICAGO | A woman died and her husband was injured after they drove off the ramp to the demolished Cline Avenue bridge, which has been closed since 2009.

Zohra Hussain, a 51-year-old woman from Chicago, died of burns at the closed Riley Road exit of Cline Avenue, according to the Lake County coroner's office.

Her husband, Iftikhar Hussain, 64, survived the plunge of 37.5 feet off an elevated section of highway.

He was able to get out of their 2014 Nissan Sentra after it smashed into the ground below, on property owned by BP. But the car erupted into flame while his wife was still inside.

Barriers block the long-gone bridge, but Hussain drove around them.

"The Cline Avenue bridge is marked with numerous barricades including orange barrels and cones, large wood signs stating ROAD CLOSED with orange striped markings," Lake County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Patricia Van Til said. "There are concrete barricades across the road to further indicate the road is closed."

The couple appears to have been on their way to visit family since they had food in the vehicle, a police investigator said. They were from Chicago and were likely unfamiliar with the area.

The driver was believed to have been following GPS navigation that told him to continue on Cline Avenue, and was apparently paying more attention to the navigation system than what was in front of him, according to a police investigator.

The coroner's office was called out to 129th Avenue north of Riley Road in East Chicago at around 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Zohra Hussain was pronounced dead at 11:25 a.m. 

Iftikhar Hussain was taken to Methodist Hospital Northlake in Gary, where he was listed in stable condition.

The tragedy isn't the first at the Cline Avenue bridge, which collapsed during construction in 1982, killing 14 construction workers and injuring 16 more.

In 2009, it was closed after decades of heavy semi-trucks hauling steel coil out of the Indiana Harbor steel mills caused it to deteriorate. In 2010, the Indiana Department of Transportation condemned the bridge.

Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels promised to swiftly rebuild the bridge, which had served the Midwest's largest refinery and the biggest steelmaking complex in North America, and gave Chicago residents an easy route to visit casinos in East Chicago and Gary. But the state reneged after deciding a replacement bridge would be too costly.

Plans to build a privately financed toll bridge have dragged on for years. Construction of a new bridge over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal is supposed to begin this spring.

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Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.