NORFOLK, Va. — What was supposed to be an in-depth look at the crumbling infrastructure of a vital transportation link for the seven cities instead turned into a tragedy for the family and friends of VCU junior Topher Ginsburg and for everyone at The Peedmont.
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The 20-year-old intern died Thursday morning after attempting to hold his breath while driving through the tunnel portion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, which is almost 7,500 feet long.
According to the Norfolk Police Department, Ginsburg lost consciousness in the eastbound tunnel due to a lack of oxygen and ended up driving off the bridge section into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
“It’s certainly doable,” noted Norfolk Police spokesman Skip Hunter of the breath-holding challenge. “Typical commuter traffic at that time is pretty heavy though, so what is usually a two minute endeavour without traffic may have been more like two hours. No one can hold their breath that long, not even Chuck Norris.”
“We’re not sure why he attempted such a feat, but it does speak to his determination,” he added.
“The Toph-Man,” as his friends affectionately called him, had only recently begun a journalism internship with The Peedmont through VCU and was eager to expand his horizons into local reporting. He was curious, polite, and never let his inability to read or write more than two sentences at a time stand in the way of his professional goals.
A diligent intern, Topher was excited to complete his assignment that day, and had strategically placed several cameras on his 2006 Nissan Sentra to accurately document the condition of the interior of the tunnel. Unfortunately, Peedmont staff was unable to retrieve any salvageable content.
“Traffic was going so slow,” Hunter said, speculating on the cause of the accident. “He must have had the car on cruise control at something like 10 mph and just drifted his way out the end of the tunnel and through the guard rail into the water.”
Rather than reporting on the condition of the tunnel, Ginsburg’s death instead shines light on a more serious issue. Area police report multiple responses to passed-out drivers in the tunnels, with a dozen or so fatal accidents blamed on the dangerous feat this year alone.
“Please tell your readers to breathe normally at all times when operating a motor vehicle and maybe Mr. Ginsburg will not have died in vain,” Hunter stated. “The last thing that overly-congested tunnel needs is an accident at 8:30 a.m. on a Friday.”