Driver dies as truck plunges off Bay Bridge

3-vehicle crash leaves driver of car hospitalized

traffic on U.S. 50 jammed for miles

  • The driver of a tractor-trailer was killed after a three-vehicle collision that caused the 18-wheeler to plunge into the Chesapeake Bay from the Bay Bridge.
The driver of a tractor-trailer was killed after a three-vehicle… (Colby Ware/Special to The…)
August 11, 2008|By John-John Williams IV and Jennifer McMenamin | Baltimore Sun reporters

The driver of a tractor-trailer was killed early yesterday in a three-vehicle crash that sent the 18-wheeler plunging into the Chesapeake Bay — the first time that a vehicle has plummeted from the bridge in its 56-year history, according to current and former officials of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

The early morning crash left a gaping hole in the wall of the bridge, forced the all-day closure of the eastbound span and created a virtual parking lot for miles on both sides of U.S. 50 leading to the westbound span. Last night, authorities reopened the left lane of the eastbound span but said the right lane was not expected to reopen until this afternoon. They warned motorists to expect delays today and to find alternative routes.

In addition to the tractor-trailer, the crash involved a Chevrolet Camaro and a Toyota Prius, police said. Two people in the Camaro were flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in serious condition; the passenger was later released, and the driver, identified by police as Candy Lynn Baldwin, 19, of Millington, remained hospitalized in good condition last night. The driver and passenger in the Prius were uninjured.

The tractor-trailer driver was identified as John Robert Short, 57, of Willards.

The accident occurred just before 4 a.m. on the eastbound span, where two-way traffic was being directed while the westbound span was closed for maintenance, said Cpl. Jonathan Green, a spokesman for the Transportation Authority Police.

About a quarter-mile from the Kent Island side of the bridge, the westbound tractor-trailer crashed into the jersey wall, taking out a 10- to 15-foot section, before plummeting 30 to 40 feet to the water, Green said. It was unclear how the other two vehicles were involved, Green said.

Although police were releasing few details about how the crash unfolded, the Prius' driver, Seung Won Hong, gave his account toThe Sun.

Reached by phone at his Springfield, Va., home, Hong, 41, said he was driving east behind the Camaro when it collided with the westbound truck. Hong said the rig spun out of control, and the trailer struck the rear of his Prius. He heard a huge bang, then saw the trailer topple over the jersey wall.

Hong and his passenger, Ho Yoo, 42, were headed to Delaware to go fishing, he said.

"It happened very fast," Hong said. "At the time, I was shaken up a bit, but now I'm just trying to think clearly."

The body of the truck driver — an employee of a poultry processing company — was recovered from the bay at 5:40 a.m. Authorities set up a boom to contain debris around the truck, which jutted from the shallow water, while tow companies worked to remove it with cranes.

After the crash, officials opened the westbound span to two-way traffic. But its three lanes were not nearly enough to handle the crush of traffic on a sunny Sunday in August. Beach-goers, day-trippers, residents and those returning from vacations clogged the span and backed up traffic for more than 10 miles in both directions.

Bernie McManigal, 40, of Terrytown, Pa., sat dejectedly in a pickup truck around 2 p.m. while her passenger got out to walk a dog on the shoulder of the road. "We're wasting my beach time," she said before traffic inched ahead again.

When the bumper-to-bumper crawl came to a standstill, many sport utility drivers turned off their engines, presumably to save gas. Motorists who managed to exit the highway produced long lines that snaked around the Wendy's, McDonald's and gas stations that line College Parkway to get another kind of fuel for the long afternoon ahead.

At a Wawa Food Market, five miles west of the Bay Bridge, motorists said it took them more than two hours to get from the bridge to the market.

"We're out of toilet paper, and there are about 70 people lined up to use the bathroom," said Michael Shannon, an assistant manager. By 2:30 p.m., motorists had nearly emptied the food cases of salads, fruit and sodas and drained the Wawa of more than two-thirds of its fuel — with no hope of a refill anytime soon.

Drivers took different approaches to dealing with the gridlock.

One woman danced on the shoulder of U.S. 50, the music on her iPod silent to those around her. A teenage boy stood atop the family car to survey the backup. Unable to reach public restrooms, many left their vehicles and walked into nearby woods.

By late afternoon, about a dozen emergency and utility vehicles, tow trucks and cranes were parked on the bridge near the crash site, while a number of sailboats and motorboats — mostly containing curious passers-by — formed a semicircle around the half-submerged truck.

With the rear of the trailer jutting out of the water, the back door appeared to be open and mangled. The cab was submerged.

Green said the recovery of the rig was "a work in progress," adding that crews have several options to remove it. He expects it to be removed today.

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