Monday, February 18, 2008

Father, Son Killed in Horrific Bay Bridge Crash

Father, Son Killed in Horrific Bay Bridge Crash

SUV Loses Trailer on Bay Bridge, Causing Chain Reaction

Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 11, 2007; 2:46 PM

Authorities continued to investigate yesterday's horrific seven-vehicle crash on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that left three dead, five injured and snarled traffic for hours around Annapolis and Maryland's Eastern Shore.

The two-way traffic on the westbound span of the bridge does not appear to have contributed to the crash, Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief Marcus L. Brown said at a news conference today in Baltimore.

The accident was caused when a four-by-six foot trailer came loose from a sport-utility vehicle, causing a chain reaction involving six other vehicles, including a tanker truck, Brown said.

The driver of the SUV, whom police identified only as a male from Maryland, survived the accident, Brown said. Authorities have not decided whether to ticket or charge him with any crimes. Maryland law requires drivers to have their trailers securely fastened to their vehicles, Brown said.

Police tested the driver for drug or alcohol use yesterday, but have not received results. "The driver exhibited no symptoms of being under the influence," Brown said.

The seven-vehicle collision just after 4 p.m. led to the closure of all westbound lanes of bridge traffic--and one eastbound lane--for nearly eight hours, spawning huge backups and a run on motel rooms for those who were stranded.

Police identified the dead as Randall R. Orff, 47, and his son, Jonathan R. Orff, 19, both of Millington, and James H. Ingle, 44, of Preston.

Traffic moved smoothly this morning on both spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, but at least some motorists remained jittery in the wake of the crash.

"I was a little concerned going over the bridge, concerned about the structure, how it'd hold up," said Doug Wallop, 46, a physical therapist who lives on the Eastern Shore and crossed the bridge to work in Annapolis. "It's just a little disconcerting to realize how vulnerable you are living across the shore."

On the drive home to Kent Island last night, Wallop said, he saw the pile of charred totaled vehicles on the side of the road. They looked like a "mess of metal," he said.

"That was freaky, seeing all that stuff," Wallop said. "It looked like an explosion of vehicles. It was dramatic."

Cpl. Jonathan Green, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, said engineers had examined the bridge at the accident site and found no structural damage.

Father, Son Killed in Horrific Bay Bridge Crash

The accident was set in motion when a trailer came loose from a sport-utility vehicle. That caused a chain-reaction crash involving a tank truck, a flatbed tow truck, two pickups, a van and a car on the westbound span shortly after 4 p.m., said Marcus L. Brown, chief of the MTA police.

The tank truck was carrying nonhazardous animal fat. Although preliminary reports said the fat spilled into the bay, police later said the tanker remained intact and its contents did not escape. However, there was some spillage of anti-freeze and fuel.

Vehicles on the three-lane span, which at the time was carrying traffic in both directions, had been traveling faster than the posted 50 mph limit immediately before the crash, a motorist said. The span has no median divider.

Police said no charges have been filed as yet, but an investigation by an accident reconstruction team is continuing.

The crash caused hours-long delays, with all westbound lanes closed and only one lane open for motorists heading to the Eastern Shore. Another eastbound lane was closed except to emergency vehicles. Those headed west were told they had the choice of taking a 150-mile detour around the top of the Chesapeake Bay or waiting for the span to reopen.

"It's devastating," Sgt. Louis Reichart of the MTA Police said last night. "Traffic is backed up for miles."

Scores of westbound cars, backed up for nine to 10 miles late in the afternoon, were turned around and pointed toward a route that snaked up the Eastern Shore to Elkton, where drivers could get on Interstate 95. For a traveler heading to Washington, that would add two hours to the trip, under normal conditions.

Once the cars were turned around, one by one, chaos ensued on the Eastern Shore, as a mad rush of motorists searched for gasoline stations to fill up for the drive home.

As late as 10 p.m., eastbound traffic on the bridge was moving at a snail's pace, witnesses said.

"I can see that the traffic is not moving. It's at a standstill," said Lisa Haynie, manager at a restaurant on Kent Island that has views of the bridge.

The bridge was fully reopened by 11:30 p.m., and authorities reported no problems this morning save for a thick rolling fog that slowed the early commute.

The scene on the bridge, as seen from helicopters on television and described by witnesses, was horrific, with charred wreckage and smashed debris strewn across all three lanes.

Father, Son Killed in Horrific Bay Bridge Crash

Many motorists decided to wait out the night at restaurants and bars on Kent Island, near the foot of the bridge on the Eastern Shore. At Big Bats Cafe, about 50 motorists were dining after leaving their cars on the side of the road.

One of them, Larry Cartrette, was heading home to Baltimore after fishing at Ocean City. About a mile from the bridge, Cartrette drove onto a ramp and was stuck in traffic. So he left his car there and walked to Big Bats.

"I've been parked on the road since 4 o'clock. I'm at the bar. What else am I supposed to do?" Cartrette, 50, said late last night.

Another motorist, Dan Beall, was trying to get across the bridge after spending the day paving a driveway on the Eastern Shore. About a quarter-mile from the bridge, he turned on the radio, heard the news of the crash and decided to make his way to the bar.

Beall tried to book a motel room but found no vacancies about 9 p.m. So he made plans to stay with his best friend.

"Now I'm stuck here with my dog," he said. "I guess we're staying on the Eastern Shore tonight."

Brown, the MTA Police chief, said six of the vehicles involved in the crash were traveling east and a pickup was going west.

The two people hospitalized after the crash were being treated for injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening, Green said.

The driver of the SUV survived the crash and was "very upset" and "shook up" but had no major injuries, Brown said. He added that it was too early in the investigation to say whether charges would be filed.

Traffic on Route 50 in Anne Arundel County was backed up for miles last night for eastbound motorists, many of them commuters traveling from work in the Washington and Baltimore areas.

"I don't have a lot of choice," said Clarence Carter, a trucker from Greensboro, N.C.

Yesterday's accident brought back memories of another Bay Bridge crash, in November 1996, in which an 18-wheel tractor-trailer slammed into a sedan on the westbound span, killing a man, a woman and her 10-year-old son.

About 25 million vehicles cross the bridge each year, with traffic particularly heavy during the summer months, when many Washington and Baltimore residents head to the beach on the weekend. The eastbound span opened in 1952, and the westbound span opened in 1973.

As traffic zoomed by this morning, motorists said they were somewhat unnerved by the crash, but not enough to alter their travel plans.

"I was a little bit concerned," said Sequaya Tasker, 32, of Edgewater, who stopped for gas before crossing the bridge en route to Delaware, where she is buying a home. "But I'm very spiritual, and if it's my time it's my time."

Staff writers Hamil R. Harris, Thomas Boswell, Eric Weiss, Debbi Wilgoren and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.