Petaluma's 80-year-old D Street drawbridge is partially out of commission after a driver rammed one of the crossing arms, damaging the safety mechanisms.

The damage is causing the city headaches and costing it money – which it intends to collect from the driver.

Patrick McGee, 51, was arrested Dec. 14th while sleeping in his car near Second and D streets, just southwest of the bridge. A caller reported to police that both airbags in the front had deployed and he was sprawled out in the back.

McGee told police his car had struck the orange and white-striped crossing arm and its base about midnight. He said he pulled onto Second Street and tried to call a friend for a ride to no avail, Lt. Tim Lyons said. He then apparently climbed into the rear seat and went to sleep.

The wreck damaged the barricade and caused problems with an electrical safety switch, said Dan St. John, the city public works director.

Now it takes multiple employees to lift the aging bridge over the Petaluma River – which is raised by appointment only. The inconvenience may end up costing the city lots of extra money and overtime for the employees.

"Until we get it fixed, we have to send out three people to operate the bridge, as opposed to just one," St. John said. "The extra people are involved in traffic control to keep people from driving off the bridge when it's open."

Although McGee told officers he was texting when he struck the crossing arm, Lyons said he was suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He was cited for that and for hit-and-run.

The city is bringing in a special contractor who works on the unusual bridge set-up.

Because the Petaluma River is actually a tidal slough, the height of the water varies throughout the day with the tides. Boaters must call ahead to have the bridge raised. Sometimes they call days or even weeks in advance, St. John said.

Winter is not as busy as other times of the year, he said, when the bridge can be raised several times a day. It was raised 1,052 times last year, mostly for recreational users.

St. John didn't know when it would be fixed or what repairs might cost.

"We are keeping our cost accounting and we expect to request reimbursement" during the criminal case against McGee, St. John said.

He said the damage shouldn't discourage boaters from visiting Petaluma and docking at the Turning Basin.

"It's always considered one of the best weekend trips by the regional yachting community," he said. "It's one of the few places you can tie your boat up, get out on the dock and go to the downtown area where you've got all the restaurants, shops, bars, theater, everything, right there."

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or