NTSB report says driver felt 'crowded' before hitting Skagit River bridge

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 11, 2013 

Skagit Bridge collapse

Bellingham Herald reader and local photographer Andrew Figgs sent this photo of the Interstate 5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River on Thursday, May 23, 2013.

ANDREW FIGGS — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The driver of an overloaded semi that struck the Skagit River bridge last month said he felt "crowded" by another truck driver and moved closer to the side of the bridge that had less clearance, causing his load to hit a truss, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report released Tuesday, June 11.

The crash caused a section of the Interstate 5 bridge to collapse into the river May 23, sending two vehicles and three people into the water.

The NTSB's preliminary report contained few new details, instead explaining again that an oversize load of a tractor-trailer struck more than one supporting structure of the north end of the bridge at about 7 p.m. May 23, causing its failure.

The tractor-trailer driver and other witnesses told the NTSB that another tractor-trailer had passed the over-height load on the left. The driver reported feeling "crowded" and moved farther to the right, causing the top of the load to hit the "overhead portal and multiple sway braces" on the far right side of the bridge truss, collapsing the span, the report said.

The NTSB has been looking to speak with the driver of the truck and trailer that passed the oversize load, but board spokesman Peter Knudson said officials still have not found the person or vehicle.

"We want to find out what the driver's perspective was," Knudson said.

The truck driver reported he had a 15-foot-9-inch load, and the lowest portion of the sway braces on the bridge is 14 feet, 8 inches, the NTSB reported.

The operator of the pilot vehicle told investigators that the clearance pole mounted on the front of her vehicle was set at 16 feet, 2 inches high - leaving room between the top of the pole and the top of the load.

The pilot car driver, Tammy DeTray of Olympia, released a statement last week saying she did not detect a strike when the pilot car drove across the bridge.

Traffic on the interstate has been detoured since the collapse, causing congestion and delays. As the main highway between Bellingham and Seattle, that section of corridor typically carries 71,000 vehicles a day. Washington State Patrol Trooper Sean O'Connell was killed while directing detoured traffic in Conway on May 31 when his motorcycle collided with a truck.

Crews are now working to put in place a temporary span, hoping to have the roadway operational again next week.

A final report on the cause of the accident is still months away, but Tuesday's filing laid out many of the facts known to investigators.

To read a copy of the preliminary report, click here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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