- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008

A fatal accident on the Bay Bridge in which a tractor-trailer plunged into the Chesapeake Bay killed the driver and caused massive backups Sunday as motorists attempted to return from coastal resorts on one of the busiest weekends of the year.

The accident occurred at about 4 a.m. Sunday on the eastbound span but snarled traffic on the two-lane, east- and west-bound spans into the evening.

The biggest backups for most of the day were on the eastbound span, which was limited to one lane and stretched as long as 11 miles by midafternoon.

Backups on the westbound span were only 2 or 3 miles long until the afternoon, then grew to 12 miles as beachgoers attempted to return to the metropolitan region, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Cpl. Jonathan Green, an agency spokesman, said the tractor-trailer fell about 30 to 40 feet into shallow water near the eastern edge of the 4-mile-long bridge. The driver died and two other people were seriously injured.

Authorities had not released the names of the victims as of early Sunday night. Cpl. Green said that he did not know what caused the crash and that the investigation is being handled by the Maryland Transportation Authority. He said he had “no idea” when the accident report would be completed.

The 18-wheeler was owned by the Mountaire Farms poultry-processing company, based in Selbyville, Del., and was going west on the eastbound spans because the westbound spans had been closed for maintenance.

“It is a tragic loss for the Mountaire family, because it is a close-knit company,” said company spokesman Roger Marino, who said he did not know the driver’s name or what the truck was hauling. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family. We will be assisting the authorities as we wait for more information.”

Cpl. Green said that as of about 2 p.m., the emergency crews and crash investigators had left the accident scene and that the only personnel remaining were bridge engineers and crews deciding how to remove the tractor-trailer from the water.

“We’re trying to get the lane open as soon as possible,” he said.

The vehicle could been seen upright with its top visible in about 10 feet of water.

Crews also were trying to contain a spill from the truck’s diesel fuel tank, and a crane was brought to the scene to recover the vehicle.

Kellie Boulware, of the State Highway Administration, said drivers were told to take other routes, including Interstate 95 or Route One.

“It’s a slow-moving process, people are getting through, but it’s going to be awhile,” she said.

Brent van de Graaff, 30, of Arlington, said he was returning from the Eastern Shore with friends and received the first warning in Easton, about 35 miles east of the bridges.

“My first thought was ‘This shouldn’t be too bad,’” said Mr. van de Graaff, who estimated the delay added about an hour to the trip.

The scenic bridges, which peak at about 186 feet, are a major artery to the Delaware and Maryland beaches. The eastbound span opened in 1952, and the parallel structure opened about 20 years later.

Donna Abbott, a spokeswoman for Ocean City, said the town posted signs on electronic billboards outside the Roland E. Powell Convention Center and at the resort’s Route 50 and Route 90 bridges to alert departing motorists.

She said the Fourth of July and mid-August weekends are traditionally the busiest at the resort. The town will not have officials numbers until Monday, but Mrs. Abbott said Sunday looked as crowded as last weekend, when more than 300,000 people came to visit.

cThis article is based in part on wire service reports.

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