Shannon Hamilton stood on a White County bridge and watched helplessly as a car was pulled from the cold creek below. Inside, were the bodies of two teenagers, including his 16-year-old daughter.
“I gave her a kiss and told her I loved her,” Shannon Hamilton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “Hugged her freezing body and said goodbye.”
The March wreck that killed Cecily Mcree Hamilton and Taylor Scott Swing, 18, could have been prevented if there had been guardrails or some type of barrier in place on Gene Nix Road, Shannon Hamilton said. And White County government leaders agreed, and have plans to construct some type of barrier along the bridge, the grieving father said.
The county is awaiting an engineering report, which may be ready later this week, before proceeding with plans to construct guardrails, county manager Mike Melton said Monday afternoon. There is no exact timetable for when the construction will begin, Melton said.
A month after Hamilton’s daughter was a passenger in a car that plunged from the bridge and sank, nothing has been done to prevent it from happening again. He said he couldn’t just sit back and wait. On Sunday, he decided to take care of it himself, he said.
“Every day that goes by is another day that we’re risking a life that goes into that creek,” Hamilton said.
Since he works in the quarry business, Hamilton said he decided it was a project he could handle himself. He planned to build a berm, a ledge made out of gravel-type material that could serve as a temporary barrier if cars were driving off the roadway. Hamilton had also planned for ways to route runoff so there were no environmental concerns, he said.
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It was supposed to be a temporary fix until the county could build something more permanent, Hamilton said. He brought his own Bobcat to the bridge.
But before he could complete the work, he was arrested by White County deputies. The deputies tried to talk Hamilton out of it, but were under orders to arrest him if he continued, he said. Hamilton was charged with interference with government property as his son and friends watched.
“They had to do it,” Hamilton said. “They had no choice.”
A few hours later, Hamilton said he was released on bond. Then, his phone started ringing. It continued Monday, he said.
Pictures and a video of the father’s arrest, taken by his 18-year-old son, Kale, were shared repeatedly on social media, spreading the story across the country, Hamilton said. Various media outlets also published the story.
Hamilton said Monday he doesn’t condone breaking the law, but has no regrets about attempting to prevent another family from the grief his is enduring.
“My baby girl told my heart to ‘do it, Daddy,’” Hamilton said.
Melton said he understands Hamilton’s intentions, but it’s a project the county must handle.
“He’s upset. And it’s a very sad situation,” Melton said. “My heart goes out to him. But you can’t violate the law and take matters into your own hands like this without facing consequences.”
Since his daughter’s death, Hamilton said community outreach and a scholarship organization in Cecily’s honor, http://www.bringit4cec.org/, has helped him through the pain. Scholarships will be awarded for cheerleading, one of his daughter’s passions, he said.
Monday afternoon, Hamilton said he’ll be speaking about driver safety to students at White County High School, where Cecily was a varsity cheerleader.
“Tomorrow’s never promised,” Hamilton said. “It’s the way I’m grieving, and I’m staying positive to get through the days.”
On his Facebook page, Hamilton posted a comment by White County Manager Mike Melton saying what Hamilton was going would "probably do more harm than good," citing Hamilton's lack of experience as a traffic engineer.
In response, Hamilton wrote, "I have 15 years of experience in the aggregate industry that involves constantly constructing and changing roads, installing berms to help keep up to 100 ton haul trucks on haul roads that have up to 100' plus highwalls. I guarantee I know more of what is "more harm than good" in road safety than he does. ANYTHING is better than NOTHING."
Late Monday, Hamilton said he learned that guardrails will be installed in two weeks, but he says that's not soon enough.
"If guard rails were in place in 2 weeks, you still have 14 days = 336 hours x by let's say an average of 3 cars per hour = 1008 potential vehicles at risk," Hamilton posted on Facebook Tuesday morning.