A 59-year-old Lansing man was killed in a one-vehicle accident on Highway 82 in the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 30, according to the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department.
The 911 Center received an emergency call at approximately 4:22 a.m. reporting a traffic accident that occurred on Highway 82 approximately one-half mile west of Highway 35 in the Township of Freeman.
James Walleser was operating a 2000 Jeep eastbound on 82 crossing the Mississippi River on the Lansing dike on his way to work, according to the sheriff’s department. Walleser crossed a final bridge span and as his vehicle exited the bridge span, it entered an area of the roadway that had washed out causing his vehicle to fall into the river.
The surface on the causeway portion of the highway appeared to have been undercut due to the high water. Ultimately, the water caused the highway surface to erode and fall into the river.
There was an eyewitness who was driving a vehicle a quarter mile behind Walleser’s jeep, who contacted the sheriff’s department.
The eyewitness told the sheriff’s department that he observed the taillights of the Jeep move erratically as it crashed into the hole ahead of him. He exited his vehicle and approached the scene in the darkness without a flashlight. At that point the jeep was crashed into the far side of the 75-foot long hole and still out of the water.
After the witness went back to his vehicle, retrieved a flashlight and returned, the Jeep had fallen into the river and was completely submerged.
Emergency responders arrived on scene, immediately closed the highway, and started working on extracting Walleser’s vehicle from the river. Milo’s Towing Service with the assistance of the LaCrosse County Dive Team was able to extract the Jeep from the river.
Walleser was located in the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene, according to the sheriff’s department. The vehicle had extensive frontend damage.
An autopsy to determine the cause of death was scheduled for Tuesday in Madison.
The Crawford County Highway Department began the process of repairing the roadway shortly after the vehicle was removed from the scene. Highway 82 will remain closed between Highway 35 and Lansing until further notice.
At the scene on Tuesday morning, Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock estimated the roadway could be repaired and reopened to traffic as early as Thursday evening depending on how things went.
Pelock estimated 3,000 cubic yards of material had eroded in a 75-foot long span of the eastbound lane. The county highway department will truck quarried material to the site and it will be “benched in” to the existing material still under the westbound lane.
In 2015, the highway department repaired a washout on a westbound lane adjacent to the next bridge to the west of Tuesday’s washout.
The county highway commissioner explained that under high water conditions this week, the bridge constricted the southbound water as it passed through a narrow space increasing its velocity. So, on the south side of the bridge in a backwater area an eddy developed, which eroded the sand under the roadway surface of the eastbound lane.
Crawford County Sheriff Dale McCullick said parts of the roadway and sand were still falling into the river when sheriff’s department personnel and first responders arrived on the scene.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources used sonar to determine the position of the vehicle under the water and to check for bodies in the water, according to the sheriff’s department.
The following agencies assisted the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department at the scene of the accident the DeSoto Fire Department & First Responders, Ferryville Fire Department & First Responders, Lansing Fire & First Responders, Lansing Police Department, Allamakee County Sheriff’s Department, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, US Fish & Wildlife Service, LaCrosse County Dive Team, Milo’s Towing Service, Crawford County Highway Department, Iowa State Patrol, and Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The Grant County Dive Team was held on standby in case they were needed.