Wall to block access to historic Chattahoochee bridge after drownings

Officials in Forsyth County are taking steps to prevent people from walking out onto the old Settles Bridges, the scene of some tragic accidents over the years.

Forsyth County will build a barrier blocking access to a century-old bridge tied to two 2017 drownings, Channel 2 Action News reported.

Settles Bridge, dating back to 1916, has been closed for decades, but remains in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area as a cultural resource. But the old steel beam bridge, connecting Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, has become a popular attraction for people who want to jump into the river from great heights, despite it being illegal to access the bridge.

It’s a 25-foot drop from the base of the bridge into the waters of the Chattahoochee, but some jumpers climb on top of the bridge, adding up to 20 feet to the plunge.

In 2017, two swimmers who jumped from the bridge drowned in the water below: 20-year-old Joshua Elias Katikla and 17-year-old Perez G. Tamfu. Both went to the bridge to swim with friends. Katikla was "in distress" after the jump and was later found dead two feet underwater, Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services Capt. Tommy Rutledge said at the time. Tamfu experienced a similar fate, resurfacing from the water "in distress" before falling back underwater and drowning, Rutledge said in 2017. Both drownings were deemed accidental.

In the immediate aftermath, Gwinnett County officials discussed removing beams on the county's side, making it more difficult to access, and park workers increased patrols around the bridge. In the month after Katikla and Tamfu's deaths, rangers issued 50 warnings and citations to people trying to access the bridge, which is not easily accessible or located on an established trail. The Gwinnett County beams were eventually removed, according to Channel 2.

Forsyth County put up warning signs, but still saw people accessing the bridge and jumping into the lake.

“I think things like that bring out the daredevil in people," Forsyth County Chair Laura Semanson told Channel 2. The county recently approved the construction of a wall that will block people from accessing the bridge. Semanson described it as a “tall and wide” structure that will wrap around the bridge’s access point.

Construction is expected to begin “any day” on the wall, Channel 2 reported.

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