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Officials: Captain misjudged space beneath Sunshine Bridge before collision

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DONALDSONVILLE - Officials say the captain of a barge that collided with the Sunshine Bridge didn't calculate how much space he would need to clear the structure.

Monday marked the first day of the week-long U.S. Coast Guard hearing into the Oct. 12 accident that shut down the bridge for months. A crane aboard the barge crashed into one of the bridge's supports, causing major damage. The crash and ensuing shutdown caused nightmarish traffic jams for months to follow.

While traffic has been allowed to pass in recent months, the bridge won't be fully reopened until the end of summer.

Coast Guard officials said the vessel's captain, Desmond Smith, had previously guided the same crane and barge beneath the bridge in the past but did not calculate if he had enough space on the morning of the crash. Smith was between shifts when the collision happened, meaning he was likely asleep while his second-in-command was at the helm.

Smith argued the large buckets attached to the crane barge obstructed the view of the pilots operating the tow. Despite his concerns, Smith claims he was told to continue on by the company that owned the crane, Cooper Consolidated.

Though Smith was not behind the wheel at the time of the accident, the Coast Guard says he is still responsible for the crash. He was fired by Marquette after the accident.

The public hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday.

In a statement released after the hearing adjourned Monday, Marquette Transportation President Damon Judd said the testimony accurately described the events leading to the crash.

"We apologize for the inconvenience this situation has caused citizens on both banks of the river," Judd said.

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