- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The speed and size of the tractor-trailer involved in the fatal, weekend crash on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge caused a jersey wall to break and allow the truck to plunge into the shallow water below, Maryland officials said Monday.

Geoffrey Kolberg, chief engineer for the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA), said the eastbound span of the bridge, on which the accident took place, is safe despite damage to 8 feet of wall along the right lane and that no structural damage occurred.

Mr. Kolberg also said that the Mountaire Farms truck, which was carrying frozen chicken, was traveling westbound when an eastbound vehicle crossed the center line in two-way traffic and that the truck driver hit the brakes.

The truck then brushed against the wall on the driver’s right side before crashing into the wall on the other side of the bridge at an angle, Mr. Kolberg said. The truck then dropped 30 to 40 feet into the water.

“The jersey walls are not designed to handle a 55-mph, 80,000-pound-truck impact,” he said.

MTA spokesman Cpl. Jonathan Green said police would not comment on the crash or confirm Mr. Kolberg’s report until the investigation was finished.

The eastbound span was handling two-way traffic while the westbound span was closed for maintenance. The speed limit in two-way traffic is 45 mph.

Officials think the incident was the first in the bridge’s history in which a vehicle fell over the side.

The Delaware-based Mountaire Farms truck driver John Short, 57, of Willards, was killed in the crash.

Trisha Ann Michele Carrigan, 21, of Quincy, Calif., who was in another vehicle, remained in serious but stable condition at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Candy Baldwin, 19, of Millington, was treated and released Sunday.

Mountaire spokesman Roger Marino declined to discuss Mr. Short’s driving record, pending completion of the crash investigation.

Mr. Short had worked for Mountaire since 2005 as a driver and backup dispatcher, according to a release from the company.

“He had been driving trucks for about 30 years,” Mr. Marino said. “He was a professional.”

Major backups continued Monday on the bridge while authorities investigated the crash. Police reopened the right lane of the eastbound span of the bridge at about 4 p.m., and by 6 p.m., traffic had cleared.

The lane had been closed since the crash occurred at 4 a.m. Sunday.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said Monday that federal investigators have not determined the cause of the accident and likely won’t for several months or a year.

As of Saturday, Mountaire, which has 196 vehicles and 253 drivers, had a satisfactory rating, according documents from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

In the past two years, the company has had 25 crashes, 16 of which resulted in injury, according to agency documents.

In May 2007, three men were killed in a seven-car crash on the Bay Bridge after a trailer being towed by a sport utility vehicle detached and several cars swerved to avoid it.

The incident also highlights efforts by lawmakers to build a third span across the Bay to alleviate traffic on the bridge, which increasingly has become a commuter route.

In 2004, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, assembled a task force to investigate the feasibility of such a project.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.



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