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Patrick Bray: Blanchette Bridge Accident Claims Worker's Life Weeks Before Retirement

Categories: News, Obituaries

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Courtesy of Bray family
Patrick Bray.
Patrick Bray, a 51-year-old worker on the Blanchette Bridge rehabilitation project, was preparing this month for his retirement. Just a few weeks ago, he told his brother that he only needed to work 56 more hours but planned to stay on until July 1 so he could provide insurance for his granddaughters.

"He worked hard his entire life, but he didn't mind doing it," Bob Bray, his 43-year-old brother, tells Daily RFT.

Pat Bray, however, didn't make it to July.

Last Monday, the Jerseyville, Illinois, resident was killed during a construction accident at the bridge, leaving his family to mourn a man who they say was so dedicated to his family and such a hard worker that he was willing to continue the job -- even after he was free to retire.

After his death, Bob Bray checked his brother's log book and saw that he was already well past the required hours for retirement from the project on the bridge connecting St. Louis and St. Charles counties. (The work is part of a $64 million rehabilitation of the westbound side of the I-70 bridge, which will be closed through late summer.)

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Courtesy of Bray family
Pat Bray and his granddaughters.

"His sense of family and legacy was just his driving force," Joan Bray Buchaniec, Pat's 45-year-old sister, tells Daily RFT. "Pat really understood from a very early age that he had a purpose in life and that he was a caregiver."

She continues, "It was amazing that he was able to do so much. He never...thought his day was complete until he checked on his parents. 'Mom, what do you need me to do? Dad, what do you need?'"

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Pat Bray.

"He was tough as nails," his brother Bob says, adding, "but he had two daughters and three granddaughters. And just seeing him adjust and show his soft side was something special."

The fatal accident is under investigation, and members of his family tell us that they are leaving it up to the relevant authorities to determine if there were any violations. Officials say that Bray died of injuries on a barge after he was struck by a 55-gallon drum during work last Monday morning.

His employer, Walsh Construction Company, did not respond to a request for comment from Daily RFT but said in a statement to the Post-Dispatch that it was "deeply saddened to report that an accident on the Blanchette Bridge Rehab over the Missouri River Project took the life of a valued employee."

For the Bray family, it was an especially difficult Father's Day this past Sunday.

"It's a shock," says Buchaniec, adding that it was a huge help that so many friends and coworkers came out to honor him with positive stories to share with the grieving family. "There were many people who waited and hour and a half to come in and see our family."

Current and former colleagues, she says, told them that "there was a sense of security and calm whenever Pat was their coworker."

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via Missouri Dept. of Transportation / Flickr
Blanchette Bridge.

Pat Bray, raised by parents Bob and Joy, was one of eight siblings, including his fraternal twin, Michael. Pat started working as a laborer at age eighteen hammering railroad spikes in Pacific, his family says. He later worked jobs in Colorado and Virginia before returning to Jerseyville.

He eventually joined the Army and was stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas, before spending some time in Germany. He worked in the arms room there and acquired a passion for guns, his family says. After his retirement, he planned to attend school to become a gunsmith.

Mike Bray recalls one story that he says illustrates the kind of twin brother Pat was to him. Mike says that he and a buddy were driving in western Kansas close to the Colorado border when his car broke down late at a night in a very small town.

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All photos courtesy of Bray family.
Pat Bray.

"There was only one person I would call back then," says Mike.

He ringed his brother and asked him what to do.

"He stopped what he was doing, put down what he was doing and did whatever he could to help," Mike recalls.

In this case, his brother drove hundreds of miles across the entire state to come rescue him, working late into the night to fix the car -- even as a tornado began to hit in Kansas.

"He was there, because I needed him," says Mike.

In addition to his siblings and parents, Pat Bray leaves behind two daughters, Kayla and Kelli, and three granddaughters.

Continue for an obituary from the family and for more photos.

My Voice Nation Help
3 comments
bob.bray
bob.bray

Sam, thanks for allowing us to write this story to put a face to a name for all those who didn't know Pat. Here's a couple things I wish we'd done differently. The email I sent you was not intended to be an obituary but rather just some talking points for us to cover when we did the interview as I didn't want to forget anything. Had I known it would be inserted verbatim into the story, I would've had it proofed by a few dozen people. And second, (in hindsight) I wish we could remove every name in the story other than Pat's. Some people felt left out and some feelings were hurt; this came as a big surprise to me. I think you and I were in agreement on the purpose of this story (but I'm afraid some missed it), and that was "to allow those who didn't know Pat to get to know him". Knowing that we're all calloused when it comes to taking in the news, I wanted everyone to know that Pat was not just a guy who got killed working on a bridge, but rather a guy who lived a very full life and loved his family dearly. Thanks Sam for allowing us to do that.

Paul Burrows
Paul Burrows

Very friendly neighbor. His black lab, Chloe, has been my buddy for many years. Every time I pull into my mom's driveway, she comes over to visit me. I agree, a plaque needs to be affixed to the bridge with his name.

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