An unused, concrete pedestrian bridge was hit by a tractor-trailer and collapsed on the Baltimore Beltway in Arbutus at the height of yesterday's evening rush hour, killing one driver and injuring three other people traveling the crowded highway.
Police said the accident on the inner loop occurred when a huge Caterpillar backhoe on the back of a flatbed truck struck the underside of the Maiden Choice footbridge, which spans Interstate 695 at Shelbourne Road.
The backhoe's boom hit the bridge and appeared to lift it up before it came crashing down, a witness said. A huge slab of the 42-year-old span fell to the roadway, hitting three vehicles, causing scores of motorists to slam on their brakes and tying up traffic in all directions for hours as police cleared the area for rescuers.
"It sounded like a bomb," said Chris Gunphy, a seventh-grader at Arbutus Middle School who saw the 5: 02 p.m. crash. "I heard cars screeching everywhere."
John Salmon, 27, a resident of the Maiden Choice neighborhood, was driving on the outer loop when the accident occurred.
"You couldn't see anything except a lot of dust and mayhem," he said. "It was like the truck pulled down the bridge as it passed under it."
State highway officials expected the Beltway to be running as usual for this morning's rush hour.
Last night, however, during the evening rush on one of Maryland's busiest highways, all traffic stopped in both directions within moments of the crash. An eerie emptiness settled over the area as the sun set, a trio of automobiles standing in a near-perfect line with their hoods crushed.
The entire bridge, half of which fell across all three lanes of the inner loop, had been removed by midnight. By early this morning, all traces of the 1957 span were gone, as concrete debris was broken up, dumped into trucks and hauled away.
Charles Evans, a firefighter and paramedic with the Halethorpe station of the Baltimore County Fire Department, was driving home to Boring and saw the excavator hit the pedestrian bridge. Cars near Evans screamed to a halt to avoid the fallen span and the automobiles trapped beneath it. Other vehicles veered off the road.
Evans jumped out of his Ford Ranger, ran about 300 feet and looked into the window of a Dodge Durango. The driver was barely breathing and unconscious.
"When I realized that [he] could not be revived, I went around to the other side and started asking the passenger if she was OK," Evans said, adding that the woman was conscious and mumbling. She required oxygen and intravenous fluids, he said.
As rescuers arrived, Evans moved on to other victims.
"I was really overwhelmed," he said. "You just don't see an accident like that every day. [Survivors] were lucky. It could have been a lot worse."
Other motorists who witnessed the crash grabbed crowbars and tried to pry open the Durango's door. State police identified the driver, who died at the scene, as Robert Norman Taylor, 54, of the 3600 block of Belle Ave. in Northwest Baltimore. His passenger was identified as Regina Lee Brehon, 51, of the same address.
Dave and Liz Atkins had just merged onto the highway and were worried about being late for a doctor's appointment when they saw a cloud of dust about eight cars ahead.
Said Dave Atkins: "Two seconds more, we would've been gone."
After helping several of the victims, Halethorpe paramedic Tina Kruger noticed an infant carrier in the back of a partially crushed red Toyota Corolla.
"I thank God that it was empty," she said.
State police said the 1999 Peterbilt flatbed tractor-trailer was registered to T.T.K. Transport Inc. of Ontario, Canada.
The driver, Paul C. McIntosh, 23, of Brussels, Ontario, left Locust Point earlier in the afternoon for London, Ontario, with the giant excavator.
After hitting the first bridge, police said, the truck struck an automobile overpass about 200 yards away, at Westland Boulevard, and continued an additional 400 yards.
McIntosh, who was uninjured, was questioned by police last night.
Investigators said charges, if any, would not be filed until a complete review of the accident had been made by the Baltimore County state's attorney's office.
McIntosh, who retained an attorney through his employer and was not in custody last night, had the necessary permits to drive the rig in Maryland and a valid Canadian driver's license, police said. It was not known how fast he was driving.
McIntosh submitted to a mandatory blood test to determine if there were alcohol or drugs in his system, police said. Test results were not available last night.
Investigators who interviewed McIntosh said the excavator apparently was positioned improperly on the back of the truck and its tracks insufficiently secured, allowing the vehicle to bounce.
"We believe the boom was too high," said Col. David B. Mitchell, superintendent of state police.
Inner loop traffic was routed onto I-95 and outer loop motorists were detoured to Wilkens Avenue.
Motorists seriously injured