C&D Canal water rescue/search 100619

As an investigation continues into why a vehicle veered off the roadway and into the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, killing an 18-year-old man and four of his young relatives, ages 16, 12, and 6, there are questions left for officials to address.

Instances like this are quite rare. According to state Sen. Stephanie Hansen, who spoke with the Delaware Secretary of Transportation, this is a first-of-its-kind accident. But could a guardrail have saved the lives of the Lindsey family?

It's possible.

"First of all we need to figure out: what were the conditions that led to the this terrible tragedy? Was it the condition of the roadway?" she asked. "Let's get the facts."

LISTEN | Click here to hear the full conversation with Hansen.

But Hansen told WDEL the state faces a major barrier when it comes to making improvements to the gravel roadway along the canal because they don't own the land.

"These roadways along the canal are under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers," she said. "Our ability to make changes to the roadway, to the surface to put up guard rails is very, very limited. We can write a letter and ask that the Army Corps institute some safety measures and take a look at things, but we can't require them to do it, and it's their land."

She's communicated with the Army Corps of Engineers in the past, but noted those communications don't always go well. Hansen pointed to her efforts to add suicide prevention measures along the Roth Bridge.

"Perhaps netting underneath or taking a look at some other things that we could possibly do to prevent suicide, since we know that the Roth Bridge is a magnet for folks who may be contemplating suicide, and even those communications have been very, very difficult...it takes many months for them to get back to us...they don't move quite as quickly as we do."

She said, unfortunately, the federal agency don't have to answer directly to constituents, which adds a level of government bureaucracy.

"Because you want to make sure that you're serving your constituency and you know that there are people who have great ideas and people who are hurting, and you want to be able to help and make things better--that's why we're legislators--that's why we ran for election to make things better, so when you're stymied by that, it's very frustrating," said Hansen.

Delaware Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore, who's district includes the section of C&D Canal, where the crash occurred, called it natural for folks to ask the question--how can we prevent crashes like this in the future.

"First and foremost, the focus needs to be on the family and what they're going to need--not just today--but over the next coming weeks, and probably plenty more time after that," Poore said. "But I would say it's probably too early to say at hits moment to say what could have prevented this accident...but whatever it needs to be in order to make sure a tragedy like this doesn't happen again we'll certainly move full-force to take care of that."

Poore called the Army Corps "receptive" in ensuring the state does the right thing her district.

"I have nothing butt positive things to say about them, so I'm sure once all of the results come in, they certainly will be helpful in making sure that we secure the area, however we need to," she said. "Anything that we need to once we get the information back to secure this area...certainly, I will help however I need to in order to make sure that we don't lose another person in this area."

"As we learn more of the details related to this tragic accident, the Army Corps of Engineers will be working closely with state and local officials to consider next steps going forward," said Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Tim Boyle.  

Once the investigation is complete, she said legislators could request safety changes of the Army Corps of Engineers, but she said those safety measures will have to be balanced with the interests of outdoor enthusiasts.

"There are a lot of people that recreate down at the canal. They fish down there, they walk along the canal, and there are a number of things and people may like the lack of impediments between them and the water but as we've seen, that's a double-edged sword," said Hansen.

After a horrific crossover crash along Route 1 in July of 2018 that killed a father and his four daughters from New Jersey as they traveled back from vacation, the Delaware Department of Transportation added cable guardrails to the highway--something Hansen supported at the time.

"Now, you see we have guardrails...I just feel terrible for the family, it's heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking," she said.

"I can't imagine what the parents must be feeling or what they're going through," said Poore. "I really am speechless right now, as a mother of three, there are many things I think I can handle, there's many things you can say to me, I'm not sure that you could come to my door and tell me about my children in a situation like this."