- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Two-way traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge does not appear to have been the cause of a multivehicle accident Thursday that resulted in three deaths and five injuries, authorities said yesterday, but AAA Mid-Atlantic questioned whether the traffic flow made the crash worse.

It was the third accident on the bridge span to claim three lives since 1992. With questions about the safety of the two-way traffic being raised, Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief Marcus Brown underscored that a runaway trailer appeared to cause the seven-vehicle crash.

“An important point to make is that from the current investigation, it does not appear that the accident was the result of two-way traffic on the Bay bridge,” Chief Brown said.

But AAA Mid-Atlantic said a barrier between lanes might have prevented multiple crashes.

“While it’s too early to say, it is quite likely that had the counterflows of traffic been barrier separated, the multiple collisions that made this crash so horrific may not have occurred,” said Ragina Averella, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Police identified the dead as Randall R. Orff, 47, and his son, Jonathan R. Orff, 19, both of Millington, and James H. Ingle, 44, of Preston.

The Orffs worked together at Brawner Construction Inc., according to friends of the family.

Both were members of the Crumpton Fire Department, located a few miles from their home in Millington. A candlelight vigil at the firehouse was scheduled for last night, friends said.

The Orffs were riding eastbound in a pickup, and Mr. Ingle was driving westbound in a car. The sport utility vehicle that was pulling the trailer that came unhitched also was heading westbound, as were the other four vehicles involved in the crash.

Miss Averella urged the state to “examine viable ways to barrier separate the traffic flows when mixing directions on one bridge.”

Chief Brown said an investigation was continuing, and an “after action” report would be finished in about two months. Asked about discussions relating to creating a median between the traffic flows, he said, “All of that will be discussed in the after action.”

Although Chief Brown emphasized it was the trailer that caused the accident, he said it will take further investigation to determine whether two-way traffic made the accident worse or harder to avoid once the trailer became unhitched.

“I believe we’ll have those questions answered once we’re finished with the investigation,” Chief Brown said.

Investigators have yet to determine what caused the trailer to break loose. Wind was not considered to be a factor, Chief Brown said.

Police have video footage from the bridge, but it does not shed light on how the trailer came loose, Chief Brown said.

The driver of the sport utility vehicle, a man police declined to identify, has not been charged or ticketed. Although tests for drugs or alcohol in the driver had not been finished, Chief Brown said the man had not shown signs of being intoxicated.

Of the five injured, one was in stable condition at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. The other four had minor injuries.

The accident happened shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday at the start of the bridge’s westbound span. In all, seven vehicles crashed, including a tanker hauling animal fat and a tow truck.

The bridge, officially known as the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge, is the main artery connecting Maryland’s Eastern Shore with the rest of the state.

Staff writer Tarron Lively contributed to this report.

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