A 77-year-old Rhode Island man visiting Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on vacation with his wife fell to his death earlier this week when a drawbridge he was crossing on foot opened while he was still on it.
Richard Dujardin of Providence was about halfway across a bridge Monday when it began to rise, per a Milwaukee County medical examiner’s report obtained and posted online by CBS affiliate WDJT-TV.
Dujardin and his wife, Rose-Marie Dujardin, were due to fly home to Rhode Island on Monday, but wanted to make it to mass at a nearby church before they left.
They were crossing the bridge over the Milwaukee River at Kilbourn Avenue and Riverwalk Way on their way to the church when the incident occurred, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
His wife had already made it across to the other side when the drawbridge began to open, per the report.
“The lights, bells, and arms came down at each end of the bridge, however, Richard was hard of hearing and it is thought that he didn’t notice them,” the medical examiner’s report said. Dujardin — who walked slowly and wore a hearing aid — was also looking at an iPad as he crossed the bridge.
When he noticed what was happening, he tried to catch up to his wife “but was not fast enough,” the report reads.
In an effort to survive, he grabbed on to a side rail. Dujardin “hung onto the railing for 1-2 minutes, before losing his grip and falling to the pavement below,” the medical examiner’s report states.
It is estimated that he fell 71 feet, per the report.
Police performed CPR at the scene, but were unable to revive him. Dujardin died of severe head trauma, per the report.
It is unclear why the bridge’s operator didn’t see the man as he was crossing the bridge. The report stated that the operator had two camera views of the bridge, and they had to “check both cameras before allowing it to rise.” The report also said that Dujardin “was wearing dark colored clothing, and the railing of the bridge is dark green.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the operator is now on leave.
Dujardin was a religion reporter for The Providence Journal for 47 years, according to a tribute written about him at his newspaper. In the tribute published Wednesday, Providence Rabbi Les Gutterman praised Dujardin’s “ability to listen deeply” and how he “always generously captured his subjects.”
Dujardin retired from the Journal in 2013. In 2015, he received the William A. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award from the Religion News Association.
He was also the father of six children, and his family remembers him as an avid traveler, devout Catholic and passionate storyteller, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
His children spoke openly to the local newspaper about their father’s final moments.
“He really tried valiantly to save his own life,” his son Peter Dujardin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He never wanted to die young.”
His son Jeffrey Dujardin wondered if he could’ve held on to the railing as long as his father did.
“It’s very impressive that a man of his age was able to muster up the strength to hold on for that long,” he said to the Journal Sentinel.
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