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Most Bridge Victims Drowned

The search for victims of an interstate bridge collapse was called off after the body of a missing 3-year-old girl was found floating in the Arkansas River, bringing the toll to 14.

As the recovery turned to a salvage effort Wednesday, transportation officials used the giant claw of a crane to hoist chunks of concrete and twisted metal from the muddy, green river.

"They have exhausted every hot spot," said Lt. Brandon Kopepasah of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

He said he didn't believe there were any more bodies or cars in the water under the Interstate 40 bridge that was rammed by a barge Sunday morning. Still, divers planned to stand by in case sonar detected anything.

The last body pulled from the river was that of 3-year-old Shea Nicole Johnson of Lavaca, Ark, said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Civil Emergency Management. The bodies of her parents, Misty Johnson, 28, and James Johnson, 30, were recovered Monday.

The family was traveling to Tulsa when their car plummeted into the river through a 500-foot gap in the bridge about 40 miles from the Arkansas state line.

All the victims except one, Army Capt. Andrew Clements, died from drowning, Ooten said. Clements, who was traveling with his German Shepherd to a new home in Virginia, died of blunt trauma to the head, Ooten said.

Skid marks on a section of the collapsed bridge don't stop before the edge. Witnesses said they saw at least one vehicle come to a screeching stop, then get shoved into the river by other cars.

Workers pulled 10 vehicles from the water, many of them mangled.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators planned to interview towboat captain Joe Dedmon, who initially told authorities he blacked out just before the crash.

State officials said it will cost about $15 million and take as long as six months to repair the bridge. They asked travelers to avoid far eastern Oklahoma.

Signs along the interstate warn miles in advance that the road is ending, kicking drivers onto winding two-lane highways through the hilly eastern Oklahoma farmlands of corn and cattle.

Traffic snarls through tiny towns along the detour.

In Gore, state transportation workers tore up a curb so semis could make a tight curve in the center of town. Traffic backed up over the railroad tracks as a steady stream of out-of-town vehicles slowed past a snow cone stand in the "Trout Capital of Oklahoma."

"We are a small, sleepy town," said city maintenance supervisor Dana Tracy. "Gore wasn't made to handle this."

By Jennifer L. Brown

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