At least one concrete barrier and one barricade sign on Cline Avenue were moved sometime before a Chicago woman died last weekend when her husband drove off a section of road leading to a demolished bridge, an official said.
Indiana Department of Transportation crews check the barricade signs and barriers in the eastbound lanes leading up to the demolished Cline Avenue Bridge at least once a week to ensure they're properly placed, the road closure is clearly posted and vehicles cannot travel on the road, agency spokesman Matt Deitchley said.
Deitchley said he didn't have information about whether the barricade sign and concrete barrier were moved by hand or with a vehicle.
The Lake County Sheriff's Department is investigating, he said.
"The concrete barriers are heavy. They are heavy, and it would be difficult to move them by hand," he said.
Deitchley didn't have information on exactly when the last time the barricades and barriers on Cline Avenue were checked. They were in the proper position the last time they were checked, he said.
Zohra Hussain, 51, was killed from burns Saturday after her husband, Iftikhar Hussain, drove off an elevated section of the closed highway and their 2014 Nissan Sentra fell 37.5 feet onto BP property below, according to Lake County Sheriff's Department.
Iftikhar Hussain was able to exit the car before it started on fire, police said. He was taken to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary and was released the same day, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Iftikhar Hussain may have been following a GPS navigation when he drove off the bridge deck, an investigator said.
INDOT learned the barricade sign and concrete barrier had been moved after responding to Cline Avenue at the request of the Sheriff's Department, Deitchley said.
Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Police Chief Dan Murchek said the sheriff's traffic unit continues to investigate the crash.
"It will be a while before we get the results back and the investigation is completed," he said.
He declined to comment further pending the investigation.
INDOT closed the Cline Avenue Bridge in November 2009 and condemned it a month later after inspectors determined the bridge's interior cables were badly corroded and the bridge was gravely weakened. The state paid $9 million to demolish the bridge in 2013.
In 2012, East Chicago and INDOT entered into an agreement with the Figg Group to build a new, privately owned and operated toll bridge. The city and INDOT transferred the right of way in 2013 to Cline Avenue Bridge LLC, a partnership associated with the Figg Group.
Officials have repeatedly pushed back the anticipated start date for construction of a new bridge. Figg told the Indiana House Roads and Transportation Committee on Feb. 11 that construction will being this spring.
Figg Group CEO Linda Figg said Monday she didn't know any of the details about the crash. She did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
Deitchley said Tuesday he hasn't yet determined if the part of the road where the crash occurred has been relinquished by INDOT. However, he said he believed it was still under the agency's control.
"I do know it is checked at least weekly by INDOT," he said. "We are making sure that area is safe."
The barricade signs, which are orange and white and about 6 feet tall, are intended to give a visual warning the road is closed, Deitchley said.
The concrete barriers are the same as those used to divide highways or protect road construction workers, he said. They are positioned to blockade the road, stretching from shoulder to shoulder, he said.
Barricade signs and concrete barriers were repositioned after Saturday's crash, and traffic engineers have returned to the area several times to "triple check" they're where they should be, Deitchley said.
The westbound lanes of Cline Avenue remain open in the area, with traffic entering those lands on a ramp from Riley Road.
Scott Green, of Wilmette, Ill., said he came within 4 feet of driving off the bridge deck a month ago while on his way to Indianapolis.
Green, who is not familiar with the area and decided to take Cline Avenue after looking at a map, said he was able to drive around concrete barriers after entering eastbound Cline Avenue from the Indiana Toll Road.
Green said he encountered at least one and perhaps two concrete barriers, but they were blocking only two of the three lanes on the road.
Green said he didn't recall seeing any signs saying the road is closed or that the bridge is out. He saw frozen tire tracks, he said.
"I saw a car coming the other way on the other side," he said. "I saw that and I thought, 'OK, the road must be open.' That sort of gave me the confidence to keep going," he said.
When he realized the road was ending, he slammed on the brakes, he said.
Green admitted he felt stupid following his close call, but he wanted to speak out to prevent anyone else from making the same mistake.
"It happened to one person, and it almost happened to me," he said. "Something is wrong. There should be no physical way a car can get down there."
Deitchley said INDOT crews do not drive on the closed section of road for any reason. He has not heard of anyone driving other than the Hussains driving around the barriers, he said.
"To my understanding, the barriers are placed in such a way to prevent that," he said. "There's no room for doubt."
Anyone caught driving on the road, such as people drag racing, will be prosecuted, he said.