Trucker's Last-Minute Haul Ended in Tragedy

John R. Short Sr., 57, died Sunday in a crash.
John R. Short Sr., 57, died Sunday in a crash. (Courtesy Of John R. Short Jr.)
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By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 14, 2008

John R. Short Sr., the tractor-trailer driver who died Sunday when his rig plunged off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, wasn't supposed to be driving on the narrow span that morning. He was supposed to be about 90 miles away, in bed at his home on the Eastern Shore.

Short, 57, had mostly given up driving trucks because of the back pain he suffered on long-haul trips. He was working as a dispatcher for the Mountaire Farms poultry company, hitting the road only on occasional weekends. On Saturday night, he was supposed to be off.

But late that night, Short's boss called, desperate for someone to carry a load of refrigerated chicken to Pennsylvania. Short agreed.

"It was a last-minute thing," said his son, John R. Short Jr., 36. "They didn't have anyone to go out and make the delivery."

At 1 a.m., the elder Short left his home in Willards, Md., for his company's complex in Selbyville, Del. About three hours later, Short was on the Bay Bridge with the loaded truck when a 1997 Chevrolet Camaro going in the opposite direction drifted into his lane and sideswiped his truck, eyewitnesses said.

The collision sent the truck crashing against both sides of the narrow bridge and skidding along the top of the railing for 100 feet, officials said. The impact of the truck, about 80,000 pounds moving at 55 mph, caused a section of the railing to give way, and the vehicle fell at least 20 feet into the Chesapeake. Short died at the scene.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Monday, the Camaro's driver said the accident occurred after she fell asleep at the wheel. Police have said that the driver, 19-year-old Candy Lynn Baldwin, has given similar accounts to investigators but that there has been no official determination of the cause of the crash.

Cpl. Jonathan Green of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police said yesterday that physical evidence, including tire tracks, indicates that Short tried to avoid the crash.

In interviews, Short's family and friends remembered him as a deeply spiritual man who loved his two grandchildren and took pride in everything he did.

"He was just an all-around pretty much average guy that respects his company and his family and works hard," said Elizabeth Ashby, 57, Short's ex-wife. "There's a lot of men out there like that."

Family members said Short had worked at an automobile plant when he was younger and later went into trucking because he didn't like sitting inside all day.

"He liked being outside," said his son, who lives in Newark, Del. "He liked the open road. He was a lover of life."

Ashby, who maintained a cordial relationship with Short after their divorce in 1990, met him as he was leaving the Navy. She said he enlisted after high school and had served on a destroyer in the Mediterranean Sea.

She said Short tried running a delivery business in the Baltimore area before he began driving trucks for other companies. He had been with Mountaire Farms since 2005.

His son said Short got married again, to Connie Short. Two weeks before his death, Short spent the weekend with his grandchildren -- Joshua, 17, and Chloe, 7 -- in Chincoteague, Va.

Short bonded with his son over the past five years as he became more active in the church. At many Sunday services, he read Scripture to the congregation.

"He spent his last few years as a Christian . . . thinking more about how we're not just human beings who live a certain amount of time and die," his son said. "We have a soul that lives forever."

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church in the Willards area. Roger Marino, a spokesman for Mountaire Farms, said the company would observe a moment of silence at its Selbyville complex to honor Short.

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