City asked to name coal conveyor bridge after fire victims

A family member of one of two men killed in the Sept. 13, 1986 fire on the Ashtabula coal dock’s conveyor bridge would like the bridge named in honor of the victims.

ASHTABULA — Two lives were lost in 1986 when the Ashtabula coal dock’s conveyer bridge caught fire.

Family members of one of two men killed in that fire would like the bridge named in honor of the victims.

Amy Scott-Paciotti, granddaughter of the late Ralph Kelly, who along with Ray Bruckman died during the tragic event, recently sent a letter to City Council asking about the conveyor.

“I recently learned the former conveyor bridge for the Ashtabula Coal Dock will continue to stand with the Ashtabula River Foundation providing maintenance,” she said in the letter. “Seeing the bridge on everything related to Ashtabula does not bring pleasant memories for our family and I’m sure the same goes for the family of Mr. Bruckman. Since there was a petition to save the conveyor bridge and Ashtabula views the bridge as a positive reflection of the harbor, I feel like the families of the two lives lost deserve a better outcome with the conveyor bridge decision, as well.”

This year marks 35 years since the men’s untimely deaths so dedicating the bridge in their memory couldn’t be more appropriate, she said.

“By naming the conveyor bridge The Kelly-Bruckman Memorial Bridge [or The Bruckman-Kelly Memorial Bridge], it will preserve their heroic efforts of responding to and attempting to contain the bridge fire that September evening,” she said in the letter. “In my mind, their heroic efforts are similar to the terminal tower first responders on 9-11. They ran into a situation not knowing the horrific circumstances meeting them inside.”

Ward 5 Council person Jane Haines said her heart hurts for the surviving members of the families.

“Every time I look at the conveyor belt, I think of tragic accident,” she said. “I think this is a reasonable request and hope they are honored.”

City Manager Jim Timonere said the lease isn’t complete and the city is not going to own the structure, if the deal gets done the way it is being negotiated. 

During the May 3 City Council meeting, council members approved an ordinance authorizing Timonere to enter into agreements with Norfolk Southern Railroad and the Ashtabula River Foundation to buy the conveyor belt and bridge, lease the land it’s situated on, and sublease the land to one or more appropriate entities to maintain the structure at minimal expense to the city.

Those negotiations are still going on, Timonere said.

“I know the family well and sympathize with them, however it is very premature for that discussion and again if and when the deal is complete I do not see the city in a position to grant the request,” he said.

Council President John Roskovics said there are many factors to take into account.

“The heartfelt story from these families certainly are moving and worth our attention,” he said.

Scott-Paciotti asks council to dedicate the bridge to the men and, at the same time, preserve the history of the coal dock.

“Dedicating the bridge in their honor will not change the events of that evening, I know this,” she said. “It will, however, change the thought process from the bridge my grandfather lost his life to the bridge dedicated to his and Mr. Bruckman’s heroic efforts that September 13th evening in 1986.”

The Bruckman family could not be reached for comment.

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