RED HOUSE — One woman was killed during the early morning hours of March 30 after falling through a large hole in the Red House Bridge on Old Route 17 over the Allegheny River.

The incident occurred shortly before 1 a.m., when Patricia John, 47, of 2367 R.C. Hoag Drive, was walking with Kenneth VanAernam, 43, of the same address, on the bridge. Both individuals fell through a large hole in the deck, according to Cattaraugus County Undersheriff William Nichols.

VanAernam made it to the bank of the river but could not see John due to the darkness, according to investigators. He ran to a nearby residence and called 911. When deputies arrived, the spotted John lying partially in the river, which was about 2 feet deep at the point where the couple fell in, Nichols said.

Deputies said John may have struck the bridge abutment when she fell. She was pronounced dead on arrival at Olean General Hospital. Her body was taken to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo for an autopsy to determine the cause of death. VanAernam was treated for cuts and bruises.

John, a Gowanda native, was a mother of three and an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, the Wolf Clan. She was also a member of the Coldspring Volunteer Fire Department.

“We wish to express our profound sorrow about the tragic death of one of our Seneca Nation members last night, and the injury to her companion,” Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter said March 30. “We extend our people’s condolences to their families.”

The bridge and stretch of Old Route 17 from Bunker Hill Road in Steamburg to Breed Run Road in Jimersontown has not seen maintenance since 1980. In 1988, the Red House Bridge was inspected by the NYSDOT and given a general recommendation of 1, the lowest level on the scale.

The roadway once served as Route 17, a direct route from Salamanca to Steamburg, before the new present-day Interstate 86 was constructed in the late 1970s.

In recent years, talks have surfaced between the Seneca Nation and the state to repair the bridge and the portion of Old Route 17 currently closed to traffic. That section is currently littered with potholes and crumbling pavement, with some parts beginning to fall into the Allegany Reservoir.

In late 2007, the bridge became the subject of discussion when, prior to a Seneca Nation Council resolution about the bridge in December of that year, an agreement between the Nation and NYSDOT was reached to allow the state to undertake the bridges replacement, according to a press release issued by the Nation. The agreement was reached as a component of a negotiation regarding the Southern Tier Expressway Agreement of 1976, which allowed construction for what is now Interstate 86 through Seneca land.

The highlight of the most recent public talks came on March 11, 2010, when officials from both the Seneca Nation and NYSDOT met at the Allegany Administration Building for an information session and formal presentation on the proposed $15 million project.

The project had called for replacement of the bridge, which was built in 1930, and rehabilitation of Old Route 17 where it is now closed.

* This is a partial story. The full story can be found on Page A1 of the April 5, 2012 edition of The Salamanca Press and online in the e-edition. *