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Truck Driver Dies After Plunging Over Chesapeake Bay Bridge

by Jana Ritter - Published: 5/16/2014

A truck driver died Thursday when his tractor-trailer hit a maintenance vehicle on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and plunged over the side. It floated off into the deep water, prompting a massive recovery effort involving Navy divers, the Coast Guard and Virginia Marine Police. They worked to recover the driver’s body as the truck and trailer, still attached, floated westward into the Chesapeake Bay.

Sinking

Bridge-tunnel Police Chief Edward Spencer said the driver’s body remained in the cab of the submerged truck and while the body had not been recovered at the time of the press statement, Spencer confirmed that the driver is deceased. His name has not been released.

The bridge was left with a wide patch of missing guardrail, twisted metal and crumbling concrete. The scene at the northbound area of the bridge left motorists shocked— as did the far-away scene of a floating trailer surrounded by boats and watched by a helicopter.

“A couple of customers came in and said they saw pieces of guardrail missing,” said Mark Snook of Chris’ Bait and Tackle, one of just a handful of businesses in the rural area of Northampton County near the bridge.

Bridge Executive Director Jeff Holland said the truck went over the side shortly after 10 a.m. after it ran up on two bridge-tunnel maintenance trucks working a traveling lane closure. Holland said the northbound truck hit the rear maintenance truck, tried to avoid another, jackknifed and went over the rail in the passing lane. It landed between the northbound and southbound two bridges in roughly 26 feet of water.

 This is the 56th fatal accident, and the 79th fatality, on the bridge-tunnel since it opened 50 years ago. Although this is only the sixth fatality since the bridge was expanded to four lanes in 1999, it still leaves a major safety concern for motorists, especially truck drivers. While the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel can save commercial truck drivers a lot of money in time and fuel, many drivers who say they don't like the crossing and they don't feel safe on it. "The barriers definitely need to be upgraded," said Bob Hildebrant, a long time truck driver. Another truck driver, Jack Desmond, says he avoids the crossing at all costs, even though the alternate route costs him money. "It's long, it's narrow, traffic is kind of crazy up there people are speeding by you and then the bridge is too low for truckers," said Desmond.

But, there are also truck drivers who aren’t concerned driving the bridge at all, such as Reggie Williams who crosses it about 10 times a week. "How high does it (the guardrail) need to be?  You're driving in a straight line," he said.  Truck driver, Marcus Mills also agrees and says he's not sure higher guardrails would make a difference. "You just have to take your time and be careful because it's just you, the road, and the water," said Mills.