Bay Bridge Crash: 'It Was Like a Bomb Had Gone Off'

Rescue units on the Bay Bridge move a crane yesterday that hoisted a truck from the water after Sunday's fatal crash.
Rescue units on the Bay Bridge move a crane yesterday that hoisted a truck from the water after Sunday's fatal crash. (By Kathleen Lange -- Associated Press)
By Eric M. Weiss and James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The deadly crash that closed one span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge this weekend unfolded in a few frightening moments, as a swerving car sent a tractor-trailer banging against both sides of the narrow bridge, then riding along the top of the bridge's railing for 100 feet before it tumbled over the side, according to officials and witnesses.

Yesterday, as a contractor began removing sections of the truck from shallow waters near the bay's eastern shore, officials said the truck's impact had been extremely violent, and that that caused a rare failure. The truck punched a 10-foot opening in the bridge's reinforced-concrete railing, which is designed to survive even the most forceful collisions.

Authorities reopened the bridge's eastbound span at 4 p.m. yesterday, with the gap in the railing patched by a steel beam.

A spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police said yesterday that he would not discuss details of the crash, including any theories about its cause.

Candy Lynn Baldwin, 19, the driver of one of the three vehicles involved in the accident, said in a phone interview from her hospital bed that she had fallen asleep while driving east on the bridge. Baldwin said she had left her mother's wedding Saturday in Baltimore and was returning to her home in the Eastern Shore town of Millington when she nodded off about 4 a.m. Sunday.

"I don't remember it happening because I fell asleep at the wheel, but when I woke up we were in an accident," she said from Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. She said she remembers regaining consciousness in her car, a 1997 Chevrolet Camaro. "I just couldn't breathe or move my legs," she said.

On Sunday, she said, doctors treated her for spleen and liver injuries. She said she was scheduled for surgery again yesterday afternoon to repair two broken kneecaps.

"Most likely I'll be able to walk again," she said. "Then I'll have to go through rehab."

Baldwin said that at the time of the crash, she was exhausted.

"It was 4 a.m., and I had been up late preparing for the wedding and picking up people from the airport the night before," she said. The passenger in her car was Baldwin's cousin, Trish Ann Michele Carrigan, 21, visiting from California for the wedding. Carrigan was treated and released after the accident, authorities said.

Truck driver John R. Short, 57, of Willards, Md., was killed in the accident. He was hauling a load of refrigerated chicken for Mountaire Farms poultry company in Selbyville, Del.

Two people in the third car involved in the accident said they saw a black sports car drifting toward the center line of the two-lane bridge, which was carrying eastbound and westbound traffic. The Bay Bridge's other, three-lane westbound span was closed for maintenance.

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