City official pins “freak accident” on careless driving

ST. LOUIS – A top St. Louis City official blamed driver carelessness for the "freak accident” that claimed the life of a pillar of the community.

Businesswoman Jan Torrisi-Mokwa was killed by a falling bridge railing near Forest Park on Wednesday afternoon. The railing was knocked off the bridge by another driver.

Torrisi-Mokwa, 58, was also the wife of former St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa.

Concrete highway barriers have replaced the missing sections of railing at the bridge intersection of Lindell and Union boulevards at the northeast park entrance over the Forest Park Parkway until further notice.

Fox 2/News 11 have learned there's been an alarming number of accidents at the bridge intersection: 29 since January 1, 2017.

Traffic on all of the impacted roadways reopened within five hours of the accident.

A 22-year-old driver hit the bridge railing knocking a section of it onto a Tesla passing on Forest Park Parkway.

Passions were running high at St. Louis City Hall as a result.

“It’s a safe bridge. Speed kills. We know that. We see accidents all the time. It’s not always about a bridge,” said Todd Waelterman, Director of Operations for the City of St. Louis. “People need to slow down; they need to put their damn phones away.”

“I have no concerns about the structural soundness and safety. You take a 25-30 mph car, you’re not going to move a 2,500-pound block (concrete railing). It’s like losing the lottery; it’s not going to happen again. It’s just an odd, freak accident.”

The bridge and railing are inspected annually, Waelterman said. City workers routinely remove loose patches of concrete from the underside. The decorative concrete bridge railings were not loose in anyway.

Of the 29 accidents at the intersection, one of knocked a bridge railing off of the southeast corner of the bridge, which runs over train tracks. No one was hurt below.

Torrisi-Mokwa had her own business consulting firm and was known for her commitment to charitable causes – especially the Humane Society of Missouri, for which she raised millions of dollars.

She was a member of its board. She also launched its Purses for Pooches fundraiser and founded its Women’s Leadership Council.

“She was incredibly charismatic,” said Kathy Warnick, president of the Humane Society of Missouri.

The two had spoken on the phone in the past week. Torrisi-Mokwa’s loss created what Warnick called an “exceptional void.”

“We are absolutely dumbstruck that this could happen to someone who was so kind, so good, and such a force in our community,” Warnick said, her voice trailing to a whisper.

The driver who crashed into the railing was hospitalized.

Police said she was stable but gave no other information regarding her condition.

She has yet to be cited or charged but the police accident reconstruction team is a long way from wrapping up its investigation.

City leaders have discussed redesigning this intersection by putting in a roundabout. However, any radical change was millions of dollars and perhaps a decade away, Waelterman said.