Truck exceeded limits on size

17-foot-high vehicle wouldn't have cleared other Beltway bridges

Driver's log scrutinized

Beltway Bridge Collapse

June 10, 1999|By Marcia Myers and Lynn Anderson | Marcia Myers and Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The truck that crashed into a pedestrian bridge over the Baltimore Beltway on Tuesday exceeded permissible height and width limits and never stood a chance of reaching its destination in Canada, state police said yesterday.

Had it somehow avoided the Maiden Choice footbridge, the truck and its oversized load was headed for six other bridges around the Beltway that it would have been unable to clear.

Police and transportation investigators are trying to determine why the rig's driver, Paul McIntosh of Brussels, Ontario, would set out with such obviously oversized cargo.

Among the issues they are assessing is fatigue. Authorities say McIntosh might have tampered with logbooks used to chronicle his time off the road.

The collision, which caused the footbridge to collapse onto the roadway, killed Robert Norman Taylor, 54, of Northwest Baltimore. Regina Lee Brehon and Henri Patrice McQueen Williams were listed in serious but stable condition yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Elizabeth Freeman was in critical but stable condition.

McIntosh, who was not injured, remained at the scene late into the night while he was questioned. He was released early yesterday. Police have not filed charges, pending the conclusion of the investigation. Drug or alcohol use by the driver is not suspected, police said.

Howard Merker, deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County, said "it could be months" before the police report is completed and a decision made on whether to file charges.

The most serious charge that could be filed is auto manslaughter, a felony that carries a 10-year prison term, Merker said. Investigators from the state police and the National Transportation Safety Board are participating in the inquiry.

"The driver seemed to be in shock," said state police Tfc. Bradley J. Harrold, a member of the Statewide Crash Team. "[The accident] caught him by surprise."

McIntosh, 24, is licensed to haul commercial loads in Maryland and held a permit to transport the excavator. But the machine and flatbed trailer stood 17 feet, 3 inches high, exceeding permit limits by more than 3 feet. In addition, the load was 10 inches too wide, investigators said. The bridge was 16 feet, 3 inches high.

Police yesterday said McIntosh acknowledged loading the 20-ton Caterpillar excavator onto the truck himself. Regardless of the loading method, McIntosh as the driver would be held responsible for any permit violations.

Looking into logbook

Also, commercial truckers are required to keep a log of their trips and hours on the road. Federal rules require an eight-hour break after 10 hours on the road. Authorities said McIntosh might have violated that standard.

"The state police's commercial vehicle enforcement division is looking at the possibility that the logbook may have been falsified," said Pete Piringer, a state police spokesman. He declined to say why police suspect tampering.

The Beltway collision is the second fatal accident of its type in the mid-Atlantic region in two weeks and is fueling interest among state and federal regulators in a review of safety standards for commercial trucks.

Last month, a truck carrying a snowplow that exceeded height limits rammed an iron railroad bridge spanning the Schuykill Expressway in Philadelphia. The impact knocked the 300-pound blade off the plow and into an oncoming car, killing a young bride-to-be.

In the aftermath of this week's accident, a meeting is being planned to look into state and federal standards. It will involve representatives of the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation and National Transportation Safety Board, said Parker Williams, administrator of the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Trucking lobbyist Walter Thompson said he doubts there is a need for regulatory changes.

"I don't think there's anything that can be done," said Thompson, president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association Inc., a lobbying group representing 1,100 truck corporations.

"If you're in this business of hauling these types of heavy equipment, you know the responsibilities you're required to comply with. You have laws on the books to prevent bank robbers, and you still have bank robberies. If drivers are in violation, they should be prosecuted," Thompson said.

Others said the accidents, although few, are generating important questions.

"This is giving every trucking company a heads-up, a reminder to their drivers," said Mike Russell, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, in Alexandria, Va. "These are tragic accidents, but one of the benefits is it gets people talking about how to fix problems."

Onlookers gather

Yesterday morning, onlookers came to the end of Shelbourne Road to see where the bridge collapsed. Traffic on the Beltway's outer loop appeared more congested than normal, as drivers slowed to look at the scene and television news crews milled around. Little evidence of the accident remained.

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