National News

May 24, 2013

Co. says it has permits to cross span

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — A truck hauling an oversized load of drilling equipment hit an overhead bridge girder on the major interstate between Seattle and Canada, sending a section of the span into a river below as the driver watched the structure collapse in his rearview mirror.

Two other vehicles plunged into the Skagit River, but all three occupants escaped with only minor injuries.

The spectacular scene unfolded about 7 p.m. Thursday on the north section of the four-lane Interstate 5 bridge near Mount Vernon, about 60 miles north of Seattle and 40 miles south of the Canada border, and disrupted travel in both directions. Officials warned it could be weeks before things returned to normal along the heavily-travelled corridor.

The Washington State Patrol said the truck driver works for Mullen Trucking in Alberta. The tractor-trailer was hauling a housing for drilling equipment southbound when the top right front corner of the load struck several trusses on the north end of the bridge, the patrol said.

The driver, William Scott, of Spruce Grove, Alberta, near Edmonton, voluntarily gave a blood sample for an alcohol test and was not arrested. A top company official said Scott was amazed by what he saw happen.

“He’s a little bit bewildered,” Ed Scherbinski, vice president of Mullen Trucking, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “He looks in the (rearview) mirror and the bridge is coming down behind him.”

Initially, it wasn’t clear if the bridge just gave way on its own. But at an overnight news conference, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste blamed it on the too-tall load. The vertical clearance from the roadway to the beam is 14.6 feet.

The truck made it off the bridge and the driver remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators.  Two other vehicles went into the water about 25 feet below as the structure crumbled. Three people were rescued and were recovering Friday.

The trucking company said it received a state permit to carry its oversized load across the bridge. Scherbinski said the Washington state Department of Transportation had approved of the company’s plan to drive the equipment along I-5 to Vancouver, Wash.

He also said the company hired a local escort to help navigate the route. He said the driver was well-experienced with handling oversized loads.

“This is what we do for a living. We pride ourselves in doing things the proper way,” Scherbinski said.

Mike Allende, a state DOT spokesman, confirmed the truck had its permit.

“We’re still trying to figure out why it hit the bridge,” he said. “It’s ultimately up to the trucking company to figure out whether it can get through. It’s their responsibility to make sure the load they have can travel on that route.”

Cynthia Scott, of Spruce Grove, Alberta, said she spoke with her husband moments after he saw the bridge fall into a river in his rear-view mirror. Cynthia Scott said there was a small ding in one of the front corners of the load.

Dave Chesson, a state DOT spokesman, said there were no signs leading up to the bridge warning about its clearance height.

Gov. Jay Inslee — who issued an emergency proclamation for surrounding Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties — said it will cost $15 million to repair the Skagit River bridge. The federal government has already promised the state $1 million in emergency dollars to fix the bridge.

Inslee talked to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Friday morning. LaHood is promising his full support to get Washington’s main north-south roadway repaired as quickly as possible. National Transportation Safety Board officials planned to join state authorities at a Monday afternoon news briefing.

Traffic could be affected for some time. The bridge is used by an average of 71,000 vehicles a day, so the roadblock will cause a major disruption in trade and tourism between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Washington Transportation Department has set up detours. The closest bridge nearby is mostly used for local traffic between Mount Vernon and Burlington. The department also is recommending detours using state Routes 20 and 9 that add tens of miles to a trip. Drivers are urged to avoid the area if possible, especially over the Memorial Day weekend.

Dan Sligh and his wife were in their pickup on I-5 heading to a camping trip when he said the bridge before them disappeared in a “big puff of dust.”

“I hit the brakes and we went off,” Sligh told reporters from a hospital, adding he “saw the water approaching ... you hold on as tight as you can.”

Sligh and his wife were taken to Skagit Valley Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The other man was reported in stable condition at United General Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, hospital CEO Greg Reed said.

The bridge was inspected twice last year and repairs were made, Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said.

“It’s an older bridge that needs a lot of work just like a good number of bridges around the state,” she said.

The bridge was not classified as structurally deficient, but a Federal Highway Administration database listed it as being “functionally obsolete” — a category meaning that the design is outdated, such as having narrow shoulders and low clearance underneath.

The bridge was 1,112 feet long and 180 feet wide, with two lanes in each direction, Brady said. There are four spans, or sections, over the water supported by piers. The span on the north side is the one that collapsed. It’s a steel truss bridge, meaning it has a boxy steel frame.

The mishap was reminiscent of the August 2007 collapse of an I-35W bridge in Minneapolis that killed 13 people and injured another 145 when it buckled and fell into the Mississippi River during rush-hour.

Sligh was thankful.

“You’re kind of pinching yourself and realize you’re lucky to be alive.”

1
Text Only
National News
  • Indian film awards arrive in Tampa, Fla., but why?

    The so-called Bollywood Oscars have been held in Macau, Singapore, London — and now, Tampa?

    April 23, 2014

  • Indictment: Prosecutor targeted in kidnapping plot

    A North Carolina prosecutor was the intended target of an elaborate kidnapping plot, but the kidnappers looked up the wrong address on the Internet and abducted the prosecutor’s father instead, according to an indictment released Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Republican activists push party on gay marriage

    As bans against gay marriage crumble and public opinion on the issue shifts rapidly, some Republicans are pushing the party to drop its opposition to same-sex unions, part of a broader campaign to get the GOP to appeal to younger voters by de-emphasizing social issues.

    April 23, 2014

  • Missouri executes inmate for 1993 farm slaying

    Missouri executed an inmate early Wednesday only a few miles from the farm where prosecutors say he orchestrated the 1993 killing of a couple whose cows he wanted to steal.

    April 23, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Wednesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday.

    April 22, 2014

  • A bipolar doctor probes the brain on 'Black Box’

    ABC’s brainy new medical drama “Black Box” does a neat trick: It dares viewers to imagine for themselves the cost-benefit ratio of addiction, and does it without taking a firm stand.

    April 22, 2014

  • Courthouse violence unpredictable despite security

    When Utah’s new federal courthouse opened last week, it came with security improvements that are becoming standard around the country: separate entrances and elevators for judges, defendants and the public; bullet-resistant glass and paneling; and vehicle barricades to keep car bombs at bay.

    April 22, 2014

  • Lucey is tops in Iowa’s ‘Beautiful Bulldog’ event

    Lucey is a slobbering 18-month-old pooch whose human family dreams of making her a therapy dog.

    April 22, 2014

  • Cuban-American leaders helped ’Cuban Twitter’

    Leaders with the largest nonprofit organization for young Cuban-Americans quietly provided strategic support for the federal government’s secret “Cuban Twitter” program, connecting contractors with potential investors and even serving as paid consultants, The Associated Press has learned.

    April 22, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Tuesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday:

    April 22, 2014