Retired journalist plunges to death from Wisconsin drawbridge

A 77-year-old tourist died this week when the drawbridge he was walking across opened, sending him plunging to his death.

Richard Dujardin of Providence, Rhode Island, was walking across the bridge near Kilbourn Avenue and Riverwalk Walk in Milwaukee Monday when it began to rise.

“The lights, bells, and arms came down at each end of the bridge, however, Richard was hard of hearing and it is thought that he didn’t notice them,” the medical examiner’s report said. Dujardin was also looking at an iPad as he walked.

“When [the bridge] started to rise [Dujardin] panicked and grabbed onto the side rail,” the report continued. He held on to the railing for one to two minutes before he lost his grip and fell about 70 feet.

Dujardin's cause of death was listed as head trauma.
Richard Dujardin plunged to his death after a drawbridge began to rise while he was on it.
Family photo
The bridge operator has been suspended, as is local policy.
Dujardin is believed to have not noticed the lights flashing on the bridge as he was on his iPad while walking.

Police performed CPR at the scene, but were unable to revive Dujardin, who died of severe head trauma.

Dujardin’s wife, Rose-Marie, was also at the scene, having crossed the bridge before her husband. She told authorities that the couple arrived in Milwaukee on Friday for a conference, and were on their way to noon Mass at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church before flying home later that day.

Milwaukee’s drawbridges are operated remotely using two live video cameras. According to the medical examiner’s report, operators are instructed to check the cameras before opening the bridge.

“[Dujardin] wearing dark colored clothing, and the railing of the bridge is dark green,” the report noted.

Police confirmed Wednesday that the incident remains under investigation. The bridge operator, who has not been named, has been placed on leave, according to standard practice, and will be offered counselling.

“We at the Department of Public Works send our deepest sympathy to the family and friends who lost their loved one from a tragic event at the Kilbourn Avenue Bridge on Monday,” interim Public Works Commissioner Jerrel Kruschke said in a statement.

“Our employee during the time of the incident was fully trained and in his fourth year as a bridge operator having conducted hundreds of bridge openings.”

Dujardin’s untimely death sent shockwaves through the Providence community, where he spent 47 years as a religion reporter for the Providence Journal. A devout Catholic, he penned thousands of articles on topics ranging from the naming of new popes to the impact of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on Rhode Island’s Muslin community.

In a tribute published by the Journal on Wednesday, Providence rabbi Les Gutterman praised Dujardin’s “ability to listen deeply” and how he “always generously captured his subjects.”

Dujardin retired from the Journal in 2013. In 2015, he received the William A. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award from the Religion Newswriters Association.

Richard and Rosemarie Dujardin
Richard Dujardin, here with wife Rose-Marie, was walking across the bridge when it began to rise.
Family photo

In addition to his wife of 54 years, Dujardin leaves behind six children and nine grandchildren.

Dujardin’s son Peter, also a journalist, paid tribute to his “awesome dad” in a Facebook post, saying his father was a lifelong “news junkie” who counseled his children to remain “close to God.”

Members of the Milwaukee Department of Public Works and Police Department could not be reached for comment.


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