Arson Investigation Begins After Historic Bridge Destroyed

By: Shannon Kantner Email
By: Shannon Kantner Email

"This was obviously a landmark, been here for a lot of years, and we want to find out who did this and why, and let them answer to the people," Ionia County Sheriff Dale Miller said.

Folks in Ionia County are in shock today after one of their iconic bridges burned down Sunday morning.

Fire investigators and state police were on the scene Monday collecting more evidence from the charred remains of the Whites Bridge. Authorities think it might be arson, but they're still figuring that out.

For 10-year-old Lane Bigenalo, summer time means spending time at the Whites Bridge.

"Ride bikes across it, we got to walk across it, and we go to kayak under it, catch crayfish," Bigenalo said. "We had a lot of fun at this bridge."

A lot of memories in 10 short years of living less than a mile away from the historical landmark. So, imagine how people like Wayne Geiger feel, after being born and raised just down the road over 50 years ago.

"I've had a lot of good times down here," Geiger said. "It's like losing Mom and Dad, it's gone."

Dozens of people came out to get a closer look at the bridge, where many people have taken graduation photos, carved their names, or enjoyed a walk. Now the community and authorities want some answers.

"This was obviously a landmark been here for a lot of years, and we want to find out who did this and why, and let them answer to the people," Ionia County Sheriff Dale Miller said.

The sheriff's department is going door to door interviewing anyone who might have seen or heard something. State fire investigators collected samples from what remains of the bridge in the water, and brought out accelerant-sniffing dogs.

"My main focus was trying to figure out where the fire started," Det. Sgt. Trever Slater of the Michigan State Police Fire Investigation unit said.

They've ruled out some things, like an electrical fire, and are treating it as an arson. But with a holiday weekend filled with fireworks, at this point, it could have been an accident or someone with an ax to grind. Either way, folks who live around there just hope someone comes forward and that they can rebuild, though it might never be the same.

"You can't come back and get another picture, it's gone," Geiger said. "And even if they build it back, it's still not going to be the bridge that's been here."

There are now just three bridges like it left in Michigan.

Fire officials said it could be a few weeks before lab results are ready.


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