Cedric Miller, 48, of Hartsville, S.C., was killed in the accident, according to Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen. An autopsy will be performed in Atlanta.
Sgt. Michael McDaniel, a spokesman for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, said in a news release that the wreck occurred at 3:51 a.m. when, for “reasons unknown,” the semi’s cab left the right side of I-20 East, hit the bridge railing and fell into the canal.
The sheriff’s office’s Serious Traffic Accident Response unit and officials from the state Department of Natural Resources aided in the search. Wayne Taylor, the battalion chief of the Richmond County Fire Department, said rescuers used underwater sonar technology to find the body.
The tractor-trailer was at least the third to run off the canal bridge in recent years.
Rodney Way, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s area engineer, said the overpass is scheduled to be replaced in 2016, along with the Savannah River bridge crossing into South Carolina.
Way said that the cost and time estimates have yet to be set for the replacement and that there is no known cause for why truckers are having trouble with the bridge.
McDaniel said the DOT replaced the bridge railing.
A review of reports and three years of wreck data from the DOT showed that at least 26 wrecks causing 23 injuries occurred along Interstate 20 at the state line from 2011 to 2013. Half were single-vehicle accidents, and six involved tractor-trailers. Crashes involved parked vehicles, deer, guardrails and median barriers.
The lone fatality during the span was in September 2011, when a Georgia truck driver was killed after his rig ran off the eastbound canal bridge and landed in the water.
A South Carolina truck driver ran off the same eastbound bridge in August 2012 but was able swim to shore after his truck landed in the canal.
The latest reported crash involving a tractor-trailer was a year ago, on June 27, when a 60-year-old truck driver traveling west rear-ended a stopped motorist, injuring four.
Way said he does not think the existing bridge conditions are problematic. He said the speed limit is 55 mph, the overpass has an average lane width of 14 feet and there is gradual-to-flat slope leading into the bridge. .
“There is not a definite cause as to why large trucks are leaving the roadway,” he said.
Way had not heard details on Thursday’s crash and said the causes of each of the three wrecks varied. One previous crash, he said, was health-related.
“One incident every now and then out of 51,000 vehicles traveled daily is not cause for alarm for motorists,” he said.