Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the City of Jackson failed to secure a manhole cover that may have led to the deadly crash that killed Jackson Academy senior Frances Anne Fortner.
Fortner was killed Thursday while she was on the way to graduation rehearsal at Christ United Methodist Church. It's believed she hit an uncovered manhole and flipped her mother's red convertible.
Mayor Lumumba opened his weekly press conference offering condolences to the Fortner family.
"The Fortner family was made to realize the worst fears of any parent," said Lumumba. "As a father, I acknowledge that is a circumstance that no parent would ever want to face."
Over the course of the city's investigation, Lumumba said there were phone calls regarding this particular manhole made to 911 in the 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. hour. The city's chief executive said the calls were dispatched to public works and the police department. He also acknowledged a call made after another woman hit the manhole cover and blew out two tires.
Mayor Lumumba said the police department did respond to that call and made a visual observation that the manhole cover was in place, which runs contrary to what the driver's attorney, Jay Kilpatrick, told 3 On Your Side Friday.
Kilpatrick said the female officer who assisted his client "tried to remedy the manhole situation by putting it back in place as best she could."
Interim Jackson Police Chief Anthony Moore said there's no indication of any officer moving the manhole cover.
"Regardless of whether that officer felt [a visual observation was adequate], and with respect to the calls that were made to public works as well, I feel that it is my responsibility as the mayor of this city to be honest to the Fortner family and to be honest to the citizens of Jackson and acknowledge that the city of Jackson failed to appropriately secure the site at the time that we learned that the manhole cover was not properly in place," said Lumumba. "We owe responsibility to the Fortner family and we owe that acknowledgment in taking responsibility to the citizens of Jackson."
Public Works Director Robert Miller explained that Superior Asphalt was hired to pave Ridgewood Road, which 3 On Your Side confirmed Thursday.
The paving began in June 2017 and was conducted in phases. Miller said that Superior was given a punch list of items, such as raising the manhole covers to grade.
That work began in the last two weeks and has not yet been completed, Miller said.
However, Superior Asphalt spokesperson Kenny Bush told WLBT hours after the wreck that particular section of roadway involved in the deadly incident was completed and turned back over to the city on May 11, nearly one week before Fortner was killed.
Lumumba and Miller disputed that as well, saying the project had not been completed because the city had not been presented with a certification of final work or completion, and had not had a chance to review the roadway itself.
Lumumba said the citizens did the right thing by calling 911 and 311 to alert the city of the problem Thursday, and the failure to address that concern was the city's fault.
"We take responsibility for our failure within this circumstance..." said Lumumba. "What we are acknowledging as a city is that there was a failure to respond to an emergency, that people were dispatched, but even in people being dispatched, we did not appropriately secure the site."
Public Works is reviewing its communications and response protocols to ensure timely response to traffic hazards and infrastructure failures.
Lumumba said the city is still actively investigating why the manhole cover failed.
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