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November 17, 2014 at 10:39 AM

WSP cites trucker in Skagit Bridge collapse for negligent driving

Washington State Patrol detectives released their final report Monday into the May 23, 2013 collapse of the I-5 Skagit River Bridge, months after issuing a $550 ticket to the trucker whose high load struck 11 crossbeams.

Truck driver William D. Scott, who was hauling for Mullen Trucking of Alberta, challenged the citation. The next hearing is scheduled June 15, 2015, according to Skagit County District Court staff.   The Skagit Valley Herald reported in July that the citation was issued May 20, but the case is estimated to require at least four hours of evidence and testimony, so the defense sought added time to prepare. A conviction can jeopardize a trucker’s prospects for future employment.

Scott continues to work for Mullen, where he previously earned a solid safety record, the firm’s president, Ed Scherbinski, said Monday. “We’re in this together. From our perspective, he didn’t do anything wrong, at this point,” Scherbinski said.

The cargo, which was a casing used for well drilling, was 15 feet, 11 inches off the ground, or two inches taller than the truck’s permit, Monday’s announcement said. That is also six inches higher than the curved crossbeams were at the far right side of the southbound road deck.  Detectives found that a pilot car’s pole hit the crossbeams first, which should have triggered a warning.   “However, the driver of an over-height load is the person legally responsible for safe transit, not the driver of any support vehicle or pilot car,” troopers said.

Photo by Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times

Two vehicles fell into the river when the bridge collapsed on May 23, 2013, but the passengers recovered from their injuries. (Photo by Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

The truck should have moved into the left lane, where even the high load would have made it under the crossbeams, the investigation found. But the truck was only four seconds behind the pilot car, not enough time for Scott to change lanes, the WSP found.

Complicating matters, surveillance video widely broadcast after the crash showed another truck passing Scott’s truck just before it reached the bridge. Scott told federal investigators he didn’t see the pilot car pole bend, and that he felt “squeezed” by the passing trucker on his left,  according to National Transportation Safety Board records.  As the load hit the crossbeams, it rotated and grazed the trailer of the passing truck, troopers found.

The pilot car’s driver was having a hands-free cellphone conversation that she said was work-related, NTSB records say.  The safety board also criticized Washington State Department of Transportation’s signage and oversight of truck clearances.

The drill rig hit 11 of the crossbeams, also known as sway braces, troopers concluded.  As they were struck, some of the crossbeams pulled on some of the attached main beams, to the right of the southbound lanes.  That pulling force deformed the bridge truss and instantly caused one of four bridge spans to fall.

Two vehicles fell into the river, but the passengers recovered from their injuries.  One fatality occurred May 31, 2013, when Trooper Sean O’Connell was killed while directing traffic at a detour around the area.

Since then, the broken span was replaced, and the state Department of Transportation cut out and replaced the other curved crossbeams with straight beams — all of them a uniform 18 feet high.  The bridge has been named for Trooper O’Connell.  Other overpasses in Western Washington have been outfitted with new clearance signs.

The WSP has posted its report here:

Archive: ‘Miracles’: 3 survive I-5 collapse (May 23, 2013)









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