Family may file lawsuit after man dies when Jeep plunges off washed-out bridge

HICKORY, N.C. — Family members are considering legal action after a man was killed in a crash on Sept. 30 after his pickup truck went off a washed-out bridge.

Troopers said they believe the crash happened along 24th Street Place Northeast shortly after 11 p.m. that night, but they didn’t find the truck until 9:45 a.m. the next day.

Troopers identified the man who died as Philip John Paxson, 47, of Hickory.

Philip Paxson’s 2020 Jeep Gladiator overturned in Snow Creek.

The family’s attorney, Bob Zimmerman, said he is still trying to determine who is responsible for the roadway.

Philip Paxson and his family had gone to a birthday party for his 9-year-old daughter in the neighborhood and had no idea about the washed-out road. Philip Paxson’s wife, Alicia Paxson, said she had left with the kids earlier. When she woke up Saturday morning and Paxson wasn’t there, her friend went out looking and found his vehicle in the creek.

Several years ago, the bridge washed away after being flooded during a storm.

State troopers said the road is not maintained by the state, nor is it inside the Hickory city limits and there were no barriers in place warning drivers that the bridge was out. Troopers said the previous barricades had reportedly been vandalized and removed.

“Seems like minimal action could have saved his life. Nobody wanted to take responsibility. I don’t understand how over nine years this could be like this,” Alicia Paxson said.

In 2014, Channel 9 reported on the washed-out road and efforts to get it fixed. At the time, there were barriers preventing anyone from driving into the creek.

“They could have fixed the problem,” Zimmerman said. “They could have barricaded the hazard or they could have ignored it and they chose the dangerous option. Zimmerman also believes Phil Paxson was using GPS to navigate his way home. He said some apps showed the road still usable despite warnings to companies from residents.

“Members of the community in 2020 and 2021 made notifications that this was a danger that needed to be fixed and nothing was done,” Zimmerman said.

Alicia Paxson said that divers had searched the water for her husband’s cellphone and will return later this week.

She doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt on the road.

“I just don’t want people to think of it just for it to go down as another accident,” Alicia Paxson said. “I want some answers and not just excuses.”

Zimmerman said they are working with real estate experts to find out who’s responsible for the roadway.

He said they have up to two years to file a wrongful death suit but he expects that to happen much sooner.

Residents in the area said they have wanted the issue dealt with for a while.

“Should not have happened. People in this neighborhood have been fighting this for years, and nobody wants to take responsibility,” neighbor John Hopson said.

The Paxson family also wants navigation systems to stop taking drivers to the bridge, until it’s fixed. Alicia Paxson said she hopes more signs are put up warning other drivers as well.

“Somebody should have put up some kind of barrier or barricades in this area. The developer, this is private property. It is not state-maintained,” said Sgt. Brian Black with Highway Patrol.

Highway Patrol said it has contacted the North Carolina Department of Transportation to place barriers near where the bridge is washed out.

(Watch below: How does Mecklenburg County know when to shut down flooded roads?)

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