Driver Dies After Rig Plunges Over Chesapeake Bay Bridgeby Jana Ritter - Published: 2/10/2017
On Thursday, a North Carolina truck driver’s rig plunged off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel during high winds. The driver initially survived the crash and made his way to the roof of his floating truck but was unresponsive when he was rescued by a Navy helicopter. Tragically, he died on the way to the hospital.
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Joseph Chen, 47, of Greenville, had been a truck driver for about 20 years and worked for Evans Transport LLC for the last 10 years. He was on the job when he crossed CBBT on Thursday at about 12:30pm. The bridge is 17.6 miles from shore to shore and 20 miles between toll plazas, and known to be a dangerous stretch for truck drivers with or without high winds. When Chen crossed the bridge, there were Level 1 restrictions – meaning winds are in excess of 40 miles per hour but tractor-trailers can still cross. Level 2 restrictions are applied when gusts are more than 47 miles per hour and tractor-trailers must be hauling at least 30,000 pounds in addition to the weight of the rig in order to cross. The Level 2 restriction was applied about half an hour after the crash.
Tom Anderson, CBBT’s deputy director of finance and operations, said the accident is still under investigation and it's still not known if other factors such as driver error had a part in the crash. According to CBBT Police, their preliminary investigation confirms that Chen had just passed another tractor-trailer and as he re-entered the lane, he somehow drove over a curb and went airborne. The rig went off the southbound span at the mile marker 15, near the Eastern Shore side of the tunnel and plunged into the water. Investigators are hoping the truck's black box can be recovered to provide more information.
According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data buoys, the water was 45.5 degrees at the time of the crash. Chen was somehow able to climb on top of his truck and at one point he was seen still alive standing on the roof. But when rescuers retrieved him from the water about 30 minutes after the crash, he was unresponsive. He was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital. He is survived by his wife, Billie Jo Chen and his two children from a previous marriage. “Joe’s a great guy,” said a friend. “He loved motorcycle riding and was the president of a local motorcycle club in Greenville. He would do bike rides for those who were sick or in need.”
Carl Skinner has been driving trucks for 16 years and knows what it's like to drive a tractor-trailer across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. When he heard a truck went off the bridge in windy weather Thursday, he first thoughts went to Chen’s family and he said even when the CBBT's wind restrictions allow trucks to cross, drivers have to be careful. "It's a big decision to go across that bridge, and you have to use some common sense. That bridge is 17 miles of scary. It ain't no joke."