Trucker charged in Chesapeake Bay Bridge crash that sent car plunging into the water

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 for a Canadian trucking company who rammed a car off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge last month, forcing its driver to swim for her life, has been charged with negligence and other traffic infractions that could result in fines of up to $670, police said Thursday.

Investigators said Gabor Louasz was traveling about 50 mph when his tractor-trailer struck the back of a car driven by Morgan Lake, who had slowed to 4 mph in heavy traffic.

“A primary reason for crashes on the Bay Bridge is from tailgating,” said Col. Michael Kundrat, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police. “Maintaining a proper following distance is one of the simplest things drivers can do to stay safe and keep other motorists safe.”

Louasz, 29, a Hungarian who had received a three-month Canadian work permit to drive for the Prince Edward Island firm Bulk Carriers PEI, could pay the fines or opt to appeal them in court.

Police on Thursday confirmed an earlier report by the National Transportation Safety Board that Louasz was distracted by lights and sounds behind him and was following them in his side-view mirror when he plowed into Lake’s car about a quarter-mile after they began to cross the eastbound span of the bridge July 19.

The impact sandwiched Lake’s car between the truck and the vehicle in front of her, finally causing her 2007 Chrysler Sebring to ride up over the guard rail and plunge 27 feet into seven-foot-deep water.

Lake, 23, escaped through a broken window and swam to a nearby bridge abutment, where boaters and rescue crews came to her aid. She was treated at a hospital for minor injuries. Neither Louasz nor the driver of the second vehicle, a Mazda CX-5 sport-utility vehicle, were injured.

“We’re very happy that the driver was charged,” said Lake’s attorney, Wayne Cohen. “We hope this is the first step to making the bridge a safer place.”

Cohen said Lake has not filed a lawsuit but is “considering all options” as she continues to recover physically and emotionally.

“She was very banged up afterward and still isn’t back to her regular routine,” he said. “She has a tough time traveling in cars, and she can’t bring herself to go over a bridge.”

First Sgt. Kevin Ayd said Louasz was driving faster than the speed of traffic allowed and strayed from his lane before the crash.

“He was looking in the mirror,” Ayd said.

The NTSB report said Louasz “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.”

Police said Thursday that when Louasz looked forward, he noticed that vehicles in front of him were stopping and tried to turn his tractor-trailer left to avoid them. He swerved left but struck the Chrysler, and then hit it a second time, pushing it over the wall.

The report also made reference to an April 13 crash at the same location that involved two vehicles but caused no injuries.

“Both the April and July crashes were a direct result of distracted driving,” Kundrat said. “With two similar incidents over the last few months, we are taking a closer look at this area of the bridge to evaluate what can be done to enhance safety. We’re analyzing potential strategies, including flashing ‘congestion ahead’ signs, requiring headlight use during two-way traffic operations and additional rumble strips.”

The formal charges against Louasz, as listed by the police, are failure to control speed to avoid a collision ($130 fine), unsafe lane changing ($130 fine), negligent driving ($280 fine) and speed greater than reasonable and prudent on highway ($130 fine).

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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