Barge Worker Body Found in Tennessee River Below U.S. Highway 41 Bridge Project

Posted in Tennessee Maritime News on April 2, 2012

HALETOWN, TN – The search for a missing construction worker ended Tuesday, March 27, at around 10:30 p.m. CST, when the body of 31-year-old Abimael Contreras Martinez, of Morrison, Tenn., was found by Coffee County rescue squad members and divers from Winchester, TN. Martinez was found in the Tennessee River just below the U.S. Highway 41 bridge project at Haletown, Tennessee.

Bridge construction site in Haletown, TN where a barge worker drowned after falling into the Tennessee River on Monday, March 26, 2012.

Marion County Sheriff Ronnie “Bo” Burnett said that “Coffee County [personnel] spotted his body about 60 feet deep in the water, about 150 feet from where he fell in. According to the family and witnesses, Martinez couldn’t swim and his life preserver came off when he fell in, Burnett said. The sheriff said some rescue workers speculated that the cold water, about 55 degrees at the time, might have contributed to his death.

Haletown Fire Chief Mikey Tudors reported Monday March 26, the day of the accident, that a construction worker fell into the water while working on a barge at the Haletown Bridge. Chief Tudors said the man came up once, gasping for air, but went back under and hadn’t been seen until his body was discovered the following day.

Map showing location of the Haletown bridge under construction over the Tennessee River where a barge worker drowned after going missing on March 26, 2012.

Reports say that the worker had apparently tried to jump from one barge to another when he fell into the river in an area that is around 70 feet deep and about 20 to 30 degrees. Witnesses say he was wearing about 30 pounds of tools.

Martinez was an employee of one of the subcontractors working on the bridge replacement project alongside the now-closed Marion Memorial Bridge. Tennessee Department of Transportation officials and local authorities said Martinez fell into the Tennessee River as he stepped from one barge to another at the bridge construction project site Monday afternoon.

Blog post by barge injury lawyer Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP