RILEY COUNTY, Kan. (WIBW) -- Details remain unclear following the death of a Junction City man who fell off a bridge over the Kansas River in the midst of a three car pile-up on K-18 but troopers are investigating several scenarios.
The accident happened Friday, March 22, 2013 at 5:45 AM in the eastbound lanes of K-18 on the Kansas River Bridge near the Geary County and Riley County line.
According to the Kansas Highway Patrol's crash log, 37-year-old William Bratton Jr. of Junction City lost control of his 2008 Chevy Silverado truck on the icy bridge and struck a 2009 Chevy Silverado driven by Donald Phillips, 50, of Junction City.
Phillips continued to travel eastbound on K18 and came to rest on the south shoulder.
A third truck (a 2001 Chevy Silverado) driven by Roger Wilcoxson, 63, of Clay Center, rear-ended Bratton's truck after it struck Phillips' truck.
Due to the impact, Bratton's truck then struck the bridge rail and came to rest against the rail.
Wilcoxson veered right and struck the bridge rail as well, bringing his truck to a halt.
Troopers say Bratton exited his vehicle to check on the damage and ended up falling off the bridge, coming to rest approximately 30 feet below the bridge. The water levels have receded and he landed on the rocky base of the river.
"It is unknown as to how or why the subject went over the bridge rail," the crash log states.
Lt. Greg Harkrader with the Kansas Highway Patrol says Bratton's fall is being investigated separately from the initial accident.
Harkrader says it's possible Bratton slipped on the icy road surface and fell over the railing. The other possibility is that he tried to jump off the bridge, thinking there was water below to brace his fall, in order to avoid getting hit by other approaching cars- fearing an inevitable domino effect as other cars continued traveling towards the accident scene in the dark. Harkrader says Bratton could have been somewhat confused and shaken up after the crash.
Harkrader called Bratton's death "tragic." "Our hearts go out to his family," he told WIBW.
Responding officers did not realize right away that Bratton was missing from the crash site. As police and troopers started contacting the drivers of each of the trucks involved and making their reports, he could not be located and a search of the area was conducted and his body was found. Officials say he was pronounced dead on the scene.
The other two drivers were not injured. According to officials, William Bratton Jr. was a civilian employee at Fort Riley.
Troopers say in 1977, there was a car accident on K-18 in the same area with similar circumstances involving a colonel from Fort Riley who fell to his death from a bridge that crossed over the river.
As the Kansas Highway Patrol continues their investigation, troopers ask that any witnesses in the area at the time of the incident call the Troop C Headquarters in Salina with any information. The number is 785-827-3065.