Big trucks, an oversized load and 17 hours stranded by a highway after a mix-up involving a police escort

Wide cargo

long, long wait

October 04, 2007|By Brent Jones and Liz F. Kay | Brent Jones and Liz F. Kay,Sun reporters

For about 17 hours yesterday, truck driver Bob Johnson and two co-workers sat on a jersey barrier just north of the city limits on Interstate 95 and entertained themselves by watching traffic go by.

A couple of trucks blew out tires. An accident on the northbound side tied up traffic. And every so often, a car would get a little too close to the shoulder where the crew stood and knock over the cones Johnson had set up to alert travelers of their parked vehicles.

"That was pretty much the highlight of the day," he said.

Thanks to mix-ups between Johnson's employer and city police, he had to guard his 240,000-pound flatbed truck and its cargo, a Caterpillar 994D, a huge wheel loader.

A police escort was needed because of the oversized load. State police brought him to the city line, then turned over jurisdiction to the city.

When Johnson arrived at the city line more than two hours late, there was no police escort to take him to Dundalk Marine Terminal, his destination.

Johnson said he was driving from West Virginia and was 185 miles away Tuesday night, when he was supposed to get to the city. With hills that forced him to go as slow as 10 mph in some areas, Johnson said, it was impossible to get to Baltimore on time.

"My dispatchers tried to tell them that we never made it," he said.

Baltimore police spokesman Sterling Clifford said officers were ready to escort the truck, but "when it wasn't there at 11:30, we have to move on to other things."

The trucking company called yesterday morning to reschedule, but "we don't do oversized loads when there's daytime traffic," Clifford said. "It's more dangerous to move it during peak traffic hours than to have it on the side of the road."

What was left was a rather intimidating-looking apparatus chained to the top of a flatbed truck on I-95 about a mile south of the Interstate 695 interchange.

Johnson, Paul Kangas and Mike Hewitt were left with nothing to do other than protect the equipment and themselves. Kangas and Hewitt drove smaller trucks in front of and behind the flatbed carrying the Caterpillar.

"We've been on the road since Sept. 17," Kangas said. "And now this."

Besides being bored, the truck drivers said they had to remain on constant alert. Cars were whizzing by traveling at least 60 mph with not much maneuvering room if one just happened to swerve off the highway.

All three drivers were left hugging the jersey wall.

"This is too close to the road," Johnson said. "And it's a distraction to the drivers. People are looking over here. There's been almost accidents because people are watching."

While Johnson and the others remained stranded at the side of the road, their company engaged in an all-day battle with city officials over proper payment.

Douglas Johnson, a dispatcher at Virginia, Minn.-based Kirscher Transport, said he was told the city Public Works Department now requires payment before providing an escort.

The company said it sent a $1,500 check to the city for the escort but was asked for an additional $1,500 for a second escort because of the missed deadline.

Last night, after a reporter's inquiry about the truck, Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher said the department would not charge Kirscher extra for Tuesday's missed connection.

"From our perspective, we figured that in fairness, we're going to waive last night's fee," he said.

Bob Johnson heard that the money situation had been resolved a couple of hours before he was scheduled to finish the trip, a nugget of good news in an otherwise dreadful day.

Besides not having much to do, there were no nearby restroom or food facilities. Kangas and Hewitt took a bathroom break and made a run for burgers to a fast food restaurant, but Johnson had to remain with the equipment.

As the crew's senior member, he never left the side of the road and had to depend on his co-workers. As for the lack of facilities, Johnson said he used the great outdoors when nature called.

"I don't like doing it," he said. "But you do what you got to do."

brent.jones@baltsun.com liz.kay@baltsun.com

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