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Truck Driver Damages Cornish Covered Bridge

  • Officials inspect damage to the Cornish-Windsor Bridge in Cornish, N.H., on July 19, 2018. An overheight box truck struck the bridge while driving through in the morning. (Courtesy Cornish Police)

  • A pickup drives under the trusses of the Windsor-Cornish Covered Bridge that were broken off when a box truck collided with them on the morning of Thursday, July 19, 2018, in Windsor, Vt. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A truss of the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge shows the damage from a truck that hit it on the morning of Thursday, July 19, 2018, in Windsor, Vt. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2018

Cornish — A Nashua truck driver who was unfamiliar with Upper Valley roads was using a GPS navigation system when he drove an oversized box truck through the historic Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge on Thursday morning, police said. The truck struck several side trusses and caused thousands of dollars in damage.

Nizeyimana Silas, 31, of Nashua, drove through the bridge, which has a posted 9-foot-2-inch clearance, shortly before 8 a.m. from Route 12A. He cleared several side trusses as he drove down the middle of the bridge, which was built in 1866 and is 449 feet long, police said. But when he moved to the right to accommodate an oncoming vehicle, the truck struck several of the diagonal side trusses before exiting on the Windsor side, also causing damage to the facade there, according to a Cornish police news release.

Silas was driving a 2004 International box truck owned by Hudson-RPM Distributors of Nashua. The truck has a posted 12-foot-7-inch height clearance, according to Cornish police and a photo of the truck on the police department’s Facebook page.

“He was unfamiliar with the area and was following his GPS,” said Cornish Police Chief Doug Hackett, who noted that such procedures do not absolve motorists of responsibility.

“Following your GPS doesn’t mean you don’t have to follow posted signs. You can’t use the GPS as an excuse,” Hackett said. “At some point, you have to look at the road, look at the signs, look at what’s going on around you.”

Silas was given a summons of failure to obey traffic signals, which carries a $62 fine, Hackett said.

Hackett said the truck “took out more than 14 cross-members” and Cornish police said the truck caused “thousands of dollars of damage,” which will be addressed by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

Richard Arcand, a program specialist with the DOT, said an exact cost estimate was not available.

“Permanent repairs will begin next week. We will pursue the driver for the damages — I don’t know how much that it will be or when that will happen,” he said.

The bridge, which crosses the Connecticut River and is on the National Register of Historic Places, is the longest wooden covered bridge in the United States.

It was closed to traffic in 1987 because of deterioration and reopened in 1989 after a $4.45 million reconstruction.

Following the mishap on Thursday morning, DOT engineers inspected the bridge, which was closed for several hours but then reopened to traffic.

Hackett, who also is the communications coordinator for the regional dispatch center run by the town of Hanover, said motorists relying on GPS systems for directions have been a growing problem in the last five or six years as they drive down unmaintained roads in winter, and that this was his first “documented” case of an oversized truck causing damage from an errant route.

“I would encourage these companies that provide electronic GPS services to put warnings out saying there’s a height restriction on this bridge,” Hackett said.

In 2016, a lost school bus driver from the Rutland, Vt., area caused $1,100 damages to the smaller Dingleton Covered Bridge in Cornish while trying to find Windsor High School. He later pleaded guilty to a bridge violation and conduct after an accident and was fined.

Hackett said that incident did not involve GPS.

The town of Thetford also has had problems with damage to covered bridges from oversized vehicles, and now has posted a motion-activated camera near at least one bridge.

Apps are available for GPS systems that warn truckers and drivers of RVs and other tall vehicles of low bridges and other obstacles and direct them to truck-approved routes, but it is unclear what system Silas may have been using on Thursday.

A man who identified himself as the director of operations at Hudson-RPM in Nashua declined to give his full name and declined to comment.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.