In 1814, Francis Scott Key had a better view of Fort McHenry from a boat than some motorists have from the street these days -- at least judging by two recent incidents.
Twice this year, motorists -- one of them subsequently charged with having been intoxicated -- have crashed through the wrought iron gates to the entrance of the federal facility despite a red flashing light and two large stop signs, authorities report.
The latest incident occurred yesterday morning when a 1991 Ford Escort crossed over the bridge leading to the fort and slammed into the gates, knocking them off their hinges and leaving them twisted like "pretzels," said Charle P. Ives, a U.S. park ranger.
The driver, Jacqueline F. Ireland, 26, of the 2800 block of Ross Ave., Sparrows Point, was apprehended a few blocks away by city police and subsequently charged with driving under the influence, failing to comply with a traffic control device and failing to remain at the scene of a property damage accident, said John C. Burns, chief of visitor services at the fort in Locust Point.
Despite the red light and stop signs, fort officials said, they aren't surprised that some motorists, particularly those who might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, have difficulty spotting the black wrought iron gate at night.
"It is difficult to see because of the background and the fact that it's black," Mr. Ives said.
"They just come flying over the bridge and run right into the gates. They do it at least once a year."
Mr. Burns said the bridge will be closed for repairs beginning tomorrow and will not reopen until the summer.
When the bridge reopens, officials are considering placing rumble strips at the approach to the fort to warn motorists, he said.
But the "people who are hitting the gate are intoxicated. If they have had too much to drink that might not get their attention," Mr. Burns said.