Official: Bridge at Hidden Lake was overcrowded

2009-07-05T00:00:00Z Official: Bridge at Hidden Lake was overcrowdedBowdeya Tweh, (219) 933-3316

MERRILLVILLE | Structural failure may have caused a 90-foot wooden pedestrian bridge at Hidden Lake Park to collapse late Saturday, sending at least 50 people into Hidden Lake, police said Sunday.

Everyone has been accounted for, Merrillville Police Chief Joe Petruch said in a statement. There were no fatalities, he said.

The park will reopen at 8 a.m. Monday and people who lost items can return to the park to reclaim their belongings. The bridge crossing will remain closed until repairs are made.

Ross Township Fire Service Lt. Phil Topor said about 25 people were injured, 16 of whom were taken to area hospitals by ambulance. Injuries ranged from lacerations to broken bones, he said. Officials said nine other people went to area hospitals for treatment.

The collapse, which happened just after 10 p.m. following an Independence Day celebration at Hidden Lake Park, remains under investigation. The lake is about a quarter-mile from the park's entrance at Broadway.

Petruch said preliminary findings show the cause to be structural failure of the footbridge.

The water was between 7 and 8 feet deep at the bridge. Topor said at its highest point, the span was about 15 feet high.

Ross Township Trustee John Rooda said when planning the event, emergency personnel talked about the need to secure the bridge. He said police were stationed at both ends of the bridge, but said somehow too many people at once managed to get past. Rooda estimated the bridge was about 30 years old.

"We had addressed the issue of the bridge (and) that it was imperative to not let it get overcrowded," Rooda said.

Rooda told The Associated Press that the wooden span suspended by cables can handle a load of about 40 people at any one time, but as many as twice that number were on it when it collapsed Saturday night. He said the bridge has been inspected regularly.

Now, he says major reconstruction is needed to repair the bridge. The bridge is the only one at the park.

For more on this story, read Monday's edition of The Times.

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