On behalf of the City of Jackson, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has accepted responsibility for not preventing the accident that killed Frances "Franny" Fortner.
"I feel that it is my responsibility as mayor of this city to be honest to the Fortner family and to be honest to the citizens of Jackson and acknowledge that the City of Jackson failed to appropriately secure the site at the time that we learned that the manhole cover was not properly in place," Lumumba said at a press briefing Monday afternoon.
"We owe responsibility to the Fortner family, and we owe that acknowledgement and taking responsibility to the citizens of Jackson. I offer my sincerest condolences."
The investigation into the crash that killed a recent Jackson Academy graduate is ongoing, Lumumba said.
The crash occurred around noon on May 17 on Ridgewood Road near Venetian Way, when Fortner hit a manhole and her vehicle flipped as she drove to graduation practice in her mother's convertible.
Prior to Fortner's crash, Jackson resident Jean Holmes reported a loose manhole cover to a Jackson police officer after she had two flat tires around 9 a.m. The City of Jackson did not secure the crash site appropriately after the report of flat tires, Lumumba said.
Construction on Ridgewood Road has been ongoing since June 2017. Superior Asphalt paved the interior lanes in June and July. The company then left the jobsite and returned to pave the exterior lanes in October and November. In February, Superior Asphalt paved the intersections, Director of Public Works Bob Miller said at the press conference.
Then two weeks ago, Superior Asphalt returned to raise the manhole covers to road level and finish miscellaneous tasks, Miller said.
"We would have much preferred for those manholes to be raised at the time of the paving or shortly thereafter, and there is some dissatisfaction on our part that it took as long as it did. But we do not believe that there were open manholes with no barricades around it until the day of the tragic accident," Miller said.
Manhole covers weigh between 100 and 150 pounds and are not secured because of their weight, the mayor said Monday, with Superior spokesman Kenny Bush confirming that by phone. Superior Asphalt places the covers and then adds pavement around the covers to ensure the surface is level, Bush said.
"It was covered Friday, a week before the accident," Bush said. "We were finished with that manhole and those around it on that particular part of Ridgewood the week before. They had been driven over for five or six days with no issues."
It is believed the manhole cover failed in the fatal crash, but more details will not be available until the investigations are complete, Lumumba said.
"What we have here are two failures," Lumumba said. "We have—and there is still an investigation into one of those failures, well, there is an investigation for all of them—one failure infrastructure. All we know now is Superior is the contractor who was dealing with the project."
Lumumba said he reviewed the calls the City received about the manhole on May 17. The City received calls about the manhole cover after Holmes' incident around 9 a.m. and after the fatal crash.
"But let me be clear the citizens did what they were supposed to do in the circumstance," Lumumba said. "There's evidence that the citizens called as they should have called."
After Holmes popped two tires, a police officer responded to secure the car and check the manhole cover. The officer conducted a visual inspection of the cover and believed it to be in place, but officers do not have infrastructure training, Lumumba said.
"People were dispatched but we—even in people being dispatched—we did not appropriately secure the site," Lumumba said.
The Department of Public Works does not do first response for incidents, which means no one from the department was dispatched immediately to the site. The city is looking into how it responds to reports of road hazards to establish better protocols, Lumumba said.
For now, Lumumba advised citizens to call both 911 and 311 to report road hazards, Lumumba said.
Email comments and photos and locations of metro road hazards to [email protected].