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Man killed in Onslow County bridge crash was Marine captain

By Juliana Valencia
Published On: Feb 01 2014 12:20:46 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 03 2014 06:13:56 PM CST

Jacksonville Police have identified Rafael Rentas Rivera, 31, as the victim of Saturday's fatal crash on the Sewell bridge. NewsChannel 12 talked to the tow driver who helped lift the jeep out of the water.

ONSLOW COUNTY -

The man killed in the crash off Sewell Bridge in Jacksonville was a Marine at Camp Johnson, a base official said.

According to Nat Fahy, the director of public affairs at Camp Lejeune, 31-year-old Capt. Rafael Rentas Rivera was a logistics officer at Camp Johnson.

First responders found Rivera's body in a black Jeep that was laying on its side in the water under the Sewell Bridge, Jacksonville Police said. The scene was on the U.S. 17 / N.C.24 bypass heading eastbound.

The crash was reported just before noon Saturday. Police are investigating what caused the accident.

Rivera had served primarily as the officer in charge of the Advanced Ground Training Operations Section, Fahy said in a news release. Rivera had also served as an instructor for the Logistics Officer Course at Camp Johnson.

Rivera enlisted in the Marine Corps in October 2000 and was commissioned in
December 2006, according to Fahy. He was previously deployed to Iraq in 2008 and 2009, and to Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012.

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Jacksonville Police have identified the man killed in Saturday's crash off Sewell Bridge.

According to investigators, first responders found the body of 31-year-old Rafael Rentas Rivera in a black Jeep that was laying on its side in the water under the bridge. The scene was on the U.S. 17 / N.C.24 bypass heading eastbound.

The crash was reported just before noon Saturday.

Derek Smith's wrecker helped pull out the Jeep out of the New River. According to Smith, witnesses at the scene sa­­­id Rivera was on his way to work at about 6 a.m. Saturday. He was driving on the Sewell Bridge when for some reason, his vehicle went into the water.

"I mean the roads, because of the snow, were cold and frosty in the morning. In my mind, it'd be more like he lost control of the vehicle and it just went up when he caught the ice. It just carried him right over the side of the bridge and there was nothing he could do," Smith said.

But police have not commented on the cause or said if ice was a factor.

Smith said two chunks of ice were missing along the highway shoulder where the Jeep's tires had just hit. Smith said when he looked over the bridge, he could see the vehicle's passengers side and part of its tires just barely out of the water.

Divers recovered the body before pulling out the Jeep, said Smith. Crews shut down part of the highway while they worked to pull the vehicle out of the water.

"We lowered down everything to the divers and they took care of hooking it up, checking everything, and making sure it was safe to lift it. I mean without them there, we wouldn't be able to get it out of the water," Smith said.

Smith said in his opinion, the size of the Jeep, the tires, the vehicle's height off the ground and the weather were all factors in the crash.

Police are continuing to investigate the cause of the wreck.

Personnel from Onslow County, the City of Jacksonville, Camp Lejeune, the Coast Guard, and Marine Fisheries assisted first responders.

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One vehicle and an unidentified body was recovered from the waters under Sewell Bridge one quarter mile east of New River Saturday, according to the Jacksonville Department of Public Safety.

According to a spokesperson for Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, one vehicle, possibly a jeep, was recovered with a body inside.

Traffic going northbound was backed for several miles Saturday afternoon. Police, military, fire and rescue first responders were on scene.

NewsChannel 12's Juliana Valencia saw people working with several cables from a tow truck that were dangling over the bridge around 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon. They said they were trying to pull the jeep upright out of the water.

JPD said traffic coming onto the east bound lanes of the bypass were closed from hwy 53 for several hours.

Around 3 p.m. Saturday, officials said a body was recovered from the single vehicle crash.

The Director of Public Safety, Chief Mike Yaniero , said they're working on identifying the victim and notifying next of kin.

“This is an active and open investigation and there is no additional information to release at this time," Yaniero said.

No word on the cause of the crash.

NewsChannel12 obtained some of the video from ABC affiliate WWAY producer Ashley Cimino.