A 27-year-old Virginia man was killed early yesterday when his tractor-trailer overturned on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and plunged 70 feet into the Potomac River. Police identified the driver as Alvin Lee Mayton of Dolphin, Va., about 35 miles south of Petersburg.
Divers found the driver's body at about 5:15 p.m., after dragging the river for several hours.
It was the fourth accident in three days on the six-lane bridge, which carries the Capital Beltway between Maryland and Virginia, and the third involving trucks. Two tractor-trailers traveling east crashed Wednesday morning and a panel truck overturned Tuesday afternoon. There were no serious injuries in the earlier crashes, police said.
D.C. police spokesman Lt. William White III said yesterday's accident occurred at about 2:30 a.m. during a light rain. Mayton, employed by the W.A. Smith Trucking Co. of Alberta, Va., was following a truck owned by the same firm west across the bridge toward Virginia.
The two drivers were bringing their empty trucks back from a trip to Connecticut, where they had delivered logs for housing construction, a company spokeswoman said.
According to White, the driver of the first truck radioed Mayton to move to the left lane to avoid an accident that had closed the right lane. Mayton apparently lost control on the wet surface and his truck struck a concrete median barrier at least twice.
It jackknifed and plowed through a three-foot-high concrete barrier, falling into the river. The truck landed in about 30 feet of water about 300 feet from shore.
White said James Robinson, a Maryland state trooper who was on the bridge investigating an earlier accident in which a car had skidded on the wet pavement and crashed into an outside concrete barrier, saw Mayton struggling in the water. The trooper and the other truck's driver called to him to grab a gas tank that had separated from the truck and was floating.
But the current apparently was too strong and carried Mayton under the bridge, where the trooper lost sight of him, White said.
White said police and U.S. Coast Guard boats and divers were on the scene within 10 minutes and, "predicated on what we were initially told, we immediately began checking the surface of the water for the driver's body. We had eight boats out there for about two hours."
At about 10 a.m., he said, large cables were attached to the truck and it was dragged to shore.
It took more than two hours to lift the truck out of the water. Inside the mangled cab police found a shaving kit, but no body.
They began dragging the river shortly before 3 p.m.
White said he did not know why there have been so many accidents on the bridge in recent days.
"There are no built-in hazards on the bridge," he said. "It's a straight shot across. Drivers aren't paying sufficient attention, I guess."
"It's real hard to stop one of these things [a tractor-trailer] when it's empty, especially when the road is wet," said Virginia state trooper Gregg Torian, who also was on the bridge when the accident happened.