PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — Richard Dujardin, a veteran journalist who covered religion for more than 30 years in Rhode Island, died in a tragic accident as he crossed a drawbridge on his way to Mass for the feast of the Assumption with his wife while on vacation in Milwaukee.

Dujardin, 77, fell from the structure as it opened in the center beneath him, according to a report from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner.

His wife, Rose-Marie, had walked ahead and made it across the bridge before it opened, the report said. Dujardin was checking his cellphone for the location of the church where they planned to attend an afternoon Mass Aug. 15 when the accident occurred, the medical examiner said.

Details of the accident continued to emerge Aug. 17.

“The lights, bells and arms came down at each end of the bridge, however Richard was hard of hearing and it is thought that he didn’t notice them,” the medical examiner’s report said.

As the bridge opened, Dujardin tried to make it across the bridge before grabbing a railing as it rose to a 90-degree angle. He held on for one to two minutes before losing his grip and falling 71 feet to the street behind him, the report said.

Dujardin’s family said in a statement they met with Milwaukee police Aug. 17. “(We) are confident that police are conducting a complete and diligent investigation to get to the bottom of what happened here,” they said, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

A son, Peter, who followed his father into journalism and works at the Daily Press and Virginia Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, posted about the tragedy on Facebook, writing that despite his age, “my awesome dad” held on to the rising bridge “valiantly” before losing his grip.

Dujardin’s family recalled him as a devout Catholic and ardent traveler. They also said he was passionate about telling stories that crossed the wide field of religion.

“He’d wake up each day with a new, fresh look on life. Optimistic and gentle and just a wonderful father,” another son, Jean-Paul Dujardin, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

He was born in 1944 and grew up in the New York City borough of Queens, attending a Catholic high school for boys. He was oldest of four boys and the son of a merchant marine.

A lifelong journalist, Dujardin joined The Providence Journal soon after graduating from Fordham University with a degree in journalism. He worked at the newspaper for 47 years, retiring in 2013.

He stepped away from the newspaper for three years to serve as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve with regular deployments to the Mediterranean and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He returned to the newspaper afterward.

Dujardin was offered the religion beat in 1977, two years after he originally applied and was turned down for the position. His family and colleagues recalled that he was uncertain about accepting the job at first, but soon realized there was an endless stream of stories to tell about people living their faith.

The work took him around the world. He covered major religious figures including the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the Rev. Billy Graham and the Dalai Lama.

He also reported on the papal inaugurations of St. John Paul II in 1978, Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and Pope Francis in 2013. He took particular pride in serving as the pool reporter for St. John Paul’s visit to San Antonio in 1987, being with the pope throughout the day and interviewing him at one point, colleagues recalled.

He was president of the Religion News Association in the 1990s. In 2015 the association presented him with its lifetime achievement award.

In retirement the Dujardins traveled for pleasure and to visit their 12 grandchildren. Family members recalled that in recent years he learned to speak French and play the organ.

Besides his wife of 54 years and the couple’s grandchildren, Dujardin is survived by their six children and their grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were incomplete Aug. 18.