3 Killed in Bay Bridge Crash

By Philip Rucker and Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 11, 2007

A horrific seven-vehicle collision on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge killed three people, injured at least two others and closed all but one lane, snarling traffic late into the night and trapping motorists at the height of the evening rush, authorities said.

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 Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

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.

"It's devastating," said Sgt. Louis Reichart of the MTA Police. "We had the bridge closed, and there's nothing being allowed to come westbound at this time. It's just bad. Traffic is backed up for miles."

One of the westbound lanes was reopened shortly before 11 p.m., said Reichart, and officials hoped to open the other lanes by early today.

The crash caused long delays, as only one lane was open for motorists heading to the Eastern Shore. Use of one of the eastbound lanes was limited 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.

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 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.

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.

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