Coroner identifies couple killed after SUV careens into Congaree River

Emergency crews lift the SUV out of the Congaree River.
Emergency crews lift the SUV out of the Congaree River.
A temporary guardrail covers the hole left after Thursday's accident.
A temporary guardrail covers the hole left after Thursday's accident.
Columbia police continue to piece together what happened before a SUV drove off a bridge and landed in the Congaree River Thursday night.

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Unfortunately for investigators, there isn't much to photograph on the Blossom Street Bridge. A skid mark on the sidewalk and the obvious hole in the railing are the only indications that something awful happened.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts identified the couple killed as 40-year-old Shannon Y. Mickens and 35-year-old Denzel E. Whyatt, Jr.
Both Mickens and Whyatt died from asphyxiation due to fresh water drowning, Watts said.

Authorities responded to a vehicle in the river near Blossom Street around 9:45 p.m. and found the SUV submerged.

Major Melron Kelly with the Columbia Police Department said their investigation begins before the SUV left the bridge and are currently checking surveillance cameras to see if there were any signs of trouble before the incident happened.

"When they came to a stop at a light or what kind of speed, any of those factors," Kelly said. "There are so many factors that could have contributed to this accident from medical issues to speed, to a vehicle malfunction. We just don't know at this point."

Maintenance crews meanwhile are working on putting the bridge back together.

South Carolina Department of Transportation workers on Friday afternoon erected a temporary railing on the bridge where the SUV broke through.

DOT officials said the bridge was built in 1953 and is inspected every two years. It had been inspected just last month.

Guard rail requirements have changed since the bridge was built, but officials say the currently installed rails were in good order.

It is expected to take about two weeks to fully repair the bridge.

Police are hoping someone who knew Whyatt or Mickens will be able to shed light on why this happened.

"We are asking for anyone who may have seen or spoke with these people just before the accident; that may have been on the phone with them, shared text messages with them around the time of the accident, we asked that they give us a call or call Crimestoppers," Kelly said.

While police wait to hear from folks who new Whyatt or Mickens, the Richland County Coroner's Office plans to run a drug and alcohol test on both victims.

If you witnessed the crash or know anything that might help investigators, you are urged to call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.

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