NTSB report: Truck driver in Bay Bridge accident said he was distracted

Video shows Morgan Lake after she emerged from her sunken car and swam to safety. She describes what it was like to fall off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and what she did to survive. (The Washington Post)

The driver whose truck struck a car on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge last month, catapulting the car into the water below, told investigators that he was distracted by lights and sounds behind his tractor-trailer.

The July 19 accident drew international attention after the car’s driver, Morgan Lake, 24, escaped through a shattered window and swam to safety as her car sank.

The preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Monday was the first public accounting by the truck driver of how the accident happened.

The truck driver said he was traveling in the right lane of the eastbound span that evening when, according to the NTSB report, “he had turned his attention to the driver-side mirror due to lights and sounds behind him. He said that when he looked forward again, he saw that traffic was stopped, and he attempted to avoid colliding with the Chrysler by moving to the left but could not avoid the collision.”

The truck struck Lake’s 2007 Chrysler Sebring about a quarter mile onto the bridge. Her car slammed into a Mazda CX-5 and was squeezed between the two vehicles until it rode up and over the barrier that separates bridge traffic from the bay.


Morgan Lake survived after her car plunged several feet from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. She is photographed in Dunkirk, Md. on July 22. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The car dropped about 27 feet into water seven feet deep. She unbuckled her seat belt and swam out the broken window to reach a nearby bridge piling. Boaters came to her aid quickly, and rescue boats followed.

The NTSB reviewed the bridge crash after AAA questioned whether the Jersey barriers used on portions of the bridge provide sufficient protection to keep vehicles from going over the edge. The NTSB report said the barriers were 34 inches high and met performance standards.

The “NTSB’s initial report issued today does not indicate any structural concerns for the barrier type used on the Bay Bridge and on interstate bridges across the country,” said Bruce Gartner, executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the bridge.

The truck driver, who has not been identified, has not been charged.

Gartner said the authority’s crash investigators will release a report within two weeks.

“At that time, they will provide the cause and sequence of the crash, along with any charges,” he said.

The NTSB said the driver was a Hungarian who had received a temporary work permit from Canada. He had worked as a driver for the Prince Edward Island firm Bulk Carriers PEI for three months.

It was his first solo trip in the United States. After making a delivery in Orange, Va., he was headed to collect a load in Maryland.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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