- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Three men were killed and five persons were injured yesterday afternoon in a seven-vehicle crash on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, shutting down westbound traffic and causing five-mile backups on the eastbound span, authorities said.

The crash occurred when a trailer being towed by a Lincoln Navigator detached and other vehicles swerved to avoid it.

The westbound lanes of the bridge were closed after the 4:30 p.m. crash near the end of the westbound span. With traffic still backed up for miles, one lane of the three-lane span was opened before 11 p.m. and was expected to be fully open by this morning’s rush hour.

One person was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore with life-threatening injuries. Four others had less serious injuries, said Marcus Brown, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

“Other vehicles that were following swerved to avoid a trailer, and that’s what started this collision,” said Cpl. Jonathan Green, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority police, who described it as a difficult and “unbelievable crash scene” with vehicles pinned against each other.

Chief Brown said two pickup trucks, one tanker hauling animal fat, one tow truck, one van, an SUV pulling a 4-by-6 flatbed trailer and a passenger vehicle were involved in the crash.

The driver of the SUV was “very upset” and “shook up, [but had] no major injuries,” Chief Brown said, adding it was too early in the investigation to say whether charges would be filed.

Structural engineers examined the bridge by boat, air and on the span itself.

“The bridge was found to be structurally sound and safe to be reopened,” Chief Brown said last night.

Stores and gas stations around the eastern side of the bridge were busy last night with stranded motorists waiting for westbound lanes to reopen.

Melodie Shreve was staffing the Shore Stop in Stevensville, about a mile from the eastern end of the bridge, by herself.

Asked if they were busier than usual, she said: “Oh my goodness, if you only knew.”

“They can’t get across the bridge to go home, so they’re just hanging out until the bridge opens up. It’s good for business, but it’s not good for me here all alone.”

The Best Western in Grasonville, a few miles from the bridge, was sold out by 8 p.m.

There was a steady stream of people who gave up on waiting and decided to stay the night, said Melissa Hess, front desk supervisor at the hotel, At least a third of the 92 rooms were taken by walk-ins. Some guests even gave up the second rooms in their suites to help out the stranded motorists, she said.

Hours after the crash, police were still attempting to turn around motorists stuck on the bridge for four miles behind the wreckage. Eastbound traffic was backed up more than five miles, beyond the Severn River Bridge.

Normally at that time of day during the week, there is two-way traffic on the westbound span, with one lane of traffic traveling eastbound.

At 4.3 miles long and 186 feet high, the bridge is a link to Kent Island, the Eastern Shore and Atlantic Ocean for hundreds of thousands of commuters, travelers and beachgoers.

In fiscal 2005-2006, nearly 25 million vehicles crossed the bridge.

The original, two-lane span of the bridge, which now carries eastbound traffic, was built in 1952. The three-lane westbound span opened in 1973.

Ben Nuckols and Sarah Brumfield of AP and staff writer Tarron Lively contributed to this report.

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