Shannon Hamilton’s trip to the White County bridge in mid-March was a father’s worst nightmare — identifying his 16-year-old daughter, Cecily, as one of two fatal wreck victims.
In an incident that has since captured national attention, the Hall County man returned Sunday with other strong emotions as he sought to take matters into his own hands and make temporary improvements to the bridge on Gene Nix Road.
“Daddy was on a mission,” he said Monday morning. “My baby girl told my heart, ‘Move forward, Daddy. Let’s do it.’”
But Hamilton didn’t get very far in his plan to build berms around each corner of the bridge over Town Creek.
White County sheriff’s deputies arrested him at about 1 p.m. and charged him with interference with government property, Sheriff Neal Walden said.
“It’s sad the community of grieving parents have to make things happen when the White County roads department can’t…,” Hamilton is shown as saying in a video of his arrest on Facebook that attracted nearly 1.5 million views as of Monday afternoon.
Hamilton said he posted $5,000 bail for the felony offense shortly after he was booked into the White County Detention Center.
“They were very respectful, and I appreciate them doing everything they could for me,” he said of authorities. “The problem I have is with the White County road department and (its) ignorance, disrespect and negligence for allowing this situation to still exist.”
Tragedy struck two families March 15, when a car that carried Cecily Mcree Hamilton and driver Taylor Scott Swing, 18, of Cleveland, was found submerged in Town Creek.
According to the Georgia State Patrol, the car went off the west shoulder of Gene Nix Road, struck a bridge support, then vaulted off a bank and landed on its top.
The investigation has been completed, Tracey Watson of the Georgia Department of Public Safety said Monday. The crash report shows no particular circumstances that may have led to the wreck or a cause.
Hamilton said he approached White County officials about immediate fixes to the bridge near Water Cress Road.
Later, after the White County Board of Commissioners had approved guardrails at the bridge, he asked officials again about a schedule of completing the work.
“There was no help there,” Hamilton said. “I pleaded (with County Manager Mike Melton) to at least, in the interim, put up something — temporary barriers, something, to keep other lives from being lost.
“Almost 30 days has went by since the accident and not a single thing has been done there to put up any safety measure whatsoever. Enough was enough.”
Deputies were at the bridge when he arrived, instructing him not to place road base materials he had at the ready on the property.
“I don’t remember the exact circumstances around (the incident), but I do know one of my officers was in the area,” Walden said.
Hamilton said he moved forward anyway “against (the deputies’) will and attempts to stop me.”
“I got three buckets on the ground, then I was arrested,” he said.
“I had 100 tons of material there, so it was going to take me a half a day to a full day to get the job done completely, correctly and safely.”
He also had silt fences and culverts on hand to prevent runoff into the creek.
“It was a methodically thought-out process of what would be the best temporary solution until the engineered guardrails were to be set in place,” Hamilton said.
Melton said the county was “moving very quickly” with the project, starting with the commission’s approval two weeks ago.
“We’ve hired an engineer and we should have his report in the next day or so,” he said. “Probably within the next week, we should be able to get a contractor on board and have them start necessary construction.”
The guardrails, Melton added, need to be “properly designed and engineered so that they don’t put the traveling public in more harm.
“Unfortunately, what Mr. Hamilton was doing would probably do more harm than good. I’m sure not being a traffic engineer, he probably doesn’t realize that, but these things have to be properly designed and constructed.”
Melton added: “Our engineers have looked at it and told us what needed to be done, and I think anything short of that would create more problems than do good.
“We’ve talked to engineers about temporary measures and they recommended against that.”
Commissioner Terry Goodger said Monday he was “still trying to gather information” about Hamilton’s arrest.
“We really, really sympathize with the family and the loss of a child,” Goodger said. “It’s heartbreaking to all of us in the county.”
Goodger added, “You’ve got to look at the whole situation and see how do you temporarily fix that bridge. It’s a good bridge, but it’s a one-lane bridge. The county was very rural when that was put in.”
As far as legal matters are concerned, a representative in White County Magistrate Court said no court appearances had been set as of Monday afternoon.
Hamilton said he expects to receive a court date in the mail.
“We’ll move forward from there, but of course, that’s the least of my concerns,” he said. “I’m still looking for lives to be saved and barriers to be placed at the bridge.”
Taylor Swing’s mother, Sara Swing, said she and her husband, Jeff, “totally supported and backed” Hamilton in his actions Sunday.
“We feel his hurt, too, and we don’t want any other families to experience anything like this,” she said. “If the county had just put up something temporary, that would have been enough for us.
“We’re not difficult people. We’re hand shakers.”
Swing struggled as she spoke about her son, who had been dating Cecily. The two were White County High School students.
“He was your typical mountain boy,” she said. “He loved to fish and hunt. He loved NASCAR.”
Hamilton recalled his daughter as someone who loved travel, cheerleading, riding her dirt bike and “hanging out having good times.”
“She touched so many,” he said.
Cecily “was our family’s princess,” said her brother, Kale Hamilton, who shot the now-viral video. “She was very loved, very athletic, sweet and an all-around amazing person.”