Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Woman killed in crash

Woman killed in crash

A Calhan woman died Friday afternoon when a cement-pumper trailer came off an approaching truck on U.S. Highway 24 and sheared off the left side of her car.

The 54-year-old woman, whose name was not released, was driving a Chevrolet sedan east and had just passed Judge Orr Road shortly after noon when the 5,000-pound trailer came loose, authorities said.

She died before rescuers arrived, said Colorado State Patrol Master Sgt. Tony Rasnake.

Rasnake said investigators do not know how the trailer came off, but speculate the pin keeping it secured to the hitch might have failed.

The chains and safety equipment on the trailer seemed to meet state requirements, he said.

Investigators do not think excessive speed, alcohol or drugs were factors in the crash, Rasnake said.

Rasnake said investigators have not determined whether the driver of the truck will face any charges.

The truck apparently belonged to Kodiak Concrete Pumping, but a person reached at the company declined to comment on the crash.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Woman, Nephew OK After Bad Wreck

Woman, Nephew OK After Bad Wreck

May 29, 2007 02:49 PM

Police say seatbelts helped a woman and her six-year-old nephew escaped serious injuries after their car flipped on its roof after hitting a trailer that detached from a truck Tuesday morning.

The accident happened at about 10 a.m. on Versailles Road near New Circle Road. Police say Mary Pochiba's car went airborne after hitting the trailer, which came loose from the back of a truck hauling it in the opposite direction on Versailles Road. Officers say Pochiba didn't have time to miss the oncoming trailer.

Pochiba, 45, is listed in fair condition at UK Hospital tonight. Her nephew was not hurt.

The truck's driver, Melvin Weber of Versailles, may be cited in the accident.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Family to sue over bridge deaths

Family to sue over bridge deaths

The state and a Rockville motorist whose trailer detached on the Bay Bridge this spring causing a fatal pileup will face civil lawsuits over the incident.

Stephen Adam Burt, 46, escaped criminal charges last week in the wreck that killed three people.

But a Baltimore attorney for the family of Randall R. Orff, 47, and his son, Jonathan R. Orff, 19, who were killed in the incident said the family will sue Mr. Burt and the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the bridge.

"It appears pretty clear Mr. Burt was at fault," attorney Paul Bekman said.

Mr. Burt could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Bekman said the family's lawsuit against the MdTA will allege that two-way traffic on the bridge at the time of the accident was a contributing factor.

On May 10, a homemade trailer being towed by Mr. Burt detached from his 2000 Lincoln Navigator on the westbound span of the Bay Bridge at the start of the evening rush hour. The Orffs were driving east on the westbound span when Mr. Burt's trailer detached and came into their lane.

The resulting seven-car pile up killed three, including the Orffs and James H. Ingle, 44, a former Crofton resident living on the Eastern Shore who still worked in west county. The accident also closed the bridge, a vital link to the Eastern Shore, well into the night.

A subsequent investigation found Mr. Burt did not use a pin to lock the tongue coupler and that the safety chains were too long, allowing the front of the trailer to drag on the ground when it became detached from the ball.

It is impossible to track the number of runaway trailer accidents, many of which are unreported fender benders, said Richard Klein, a consulting engineer for the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers, but decouplings can cause horrific accidents.

"I'm not sure it happens that often, but when one of them does happen, it's really bad," he said.

A 2005 study paid for by lock manufacturer Master Lock found 364 people were killed in highway accidents involving trailers in 2003. Slightly more than half of trailer owners failed to use all of the safety measures to secure their trailers.

Mr. Klein, who has offered expert testimony in cases involving runaway trailers, said most are the result of using too large of a coupler for the towing vehicle's ball and failure to secure the tongue lock or security chains.

"That is almost a no-brainer," Mr. Klein said. "I don't know how people can put that on without closing the latch. It's like leaving the door open."

Like cars, all trailers have to be inspected before they can be registered, according to the Maryland State Police. Inspectors go over the trailer's frame, suspension, hitch, and, if heaver than 3,000 pounds, brakes.

Maryland Transportation Authority Police spokesman Cpl. Jonathan Green said the trailer on the bridge accident had been inspected and its registration was up to date.

Though the reconstruction report, released last week, downplayed the significance of two-way traffic at the time of the accident, Mr. Bekman said it was a contributing factor the accident's severity.

"You can't just have an X on the light (directing traffic). That's not adequate warning," Mr. Bekman said.

With the threat of a potential lawsuit, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority could not comment on the accident or the role of two-way traffic.

A California company had previously approached the state about installing a temporary barrier on the Bay Bridge when it is being used for two-way traffic, but the talks never advanced.

The authority owns a temporary barrier system, purchased from California firm Barrier Systems Inc., which is used during construction on the Key Bridge in Baltimore.

Last week, the state announced Mr. Burt would not face any criminal charges in the accident because the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and the Anne Arundel State's Attorney's Office found "no current regulations exist that can be applied to the proper securement of a trailer by the public in a noncommercial manner."

"It would appear the laws could be tightened," said Kristin Riggin, a spokesman for State's Attorney Frank Weathersbee.

Triple fatality on Bay Bridge stops traffic for eight hours

Triple fatality on Bay Bridge stops traffic for eight hours

A runaway trailer caused the seven-vehicle collision on the Bay Bridge yesterday that killed three men and paralyzed westbound Route 50 for nearly eight hours.

The Maryland Transit Authority this morning identified the victims as Randall R. Orff, 47, and his son Jonathan R. Orff, 19, of Millington. The third victim was James H. Ingle, 44, a former Crofton resident who still worked in west county.

According to MdTA Police, the small trailer came unhitched from an SUV on the westbound span of the bridge at approximately 4:20 p.m. while the bridge was in two-way operation.

"We're talking about a small, personal trailer," spokesman Cpl. Jonathan Green said. "After that we're not sure what hit what."

Cpl. Green said it was "too early to speculate" whether the two- way traffic was a contributing factor in the wreck. An accident reconstruction team was called to the bridge late last night and the final report could take "weeks even months."

Victim James Ingle grew up in Bowie and lived in Florida briefly before returning to the area a year ago, his older brother, Michael, said. The youngest of seven children, Mr. Ingle lived on the Eastern Shore and was on his way to work at the Pizza Hut in Crofton when he was killed.

Michael Ingle said his brother seemed content and happy to be back in Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

"The simple life made him very happy," Mr. Ingle said.

The Orffs were volunteers with the Crumpton Volunteer Fire Department and worked together for Brawner Construction, according to the fire company. Crumpton is near the Queen Anne's County-Kent County line.

"Both Randy and Jonathan were known as active community servants, humanitarians and (were) beloved by all that knew them," according to a statement from the fire department.

Two others were injured in the accident. One person was flown to Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, according to Battalion Chief Michael Cox, a county Fire Department spokesman. The other was treated for minor injuries.

"It was the worst thing I have ever seen," said Sveinn Storm of Centreville, co-owner of Storm Brothers Ice Cream Factory in Annapolis. He was on the bridge when the accident happened and tried to rescue commuters who were trapped in their cars by the collision, including a man whose pickup was trapped against the railing by a tractor trailer.

Mr. Storm said the driver of the SUV towing the trailer, who identified himself as Steve, was "overcome" after the accident.

"He appeared to be a very kind and compassionate person," Mr. Storm said.

MdTA Police Chief Marcus Brown said two pickups, one tanker hauling animal fat, one tow truck, one van, an SUV pulling the four- by-six flatbed trailer, and a passenger vehicle wereinvolved in the crash.

The driver of the SUV was "very upset" and "shook up, (but had) no major injuries," Chief Brown said, adding it was too early in the investigation to say whether charges would be filed.

After witnessing the accident, Mr. Storm said he planned to moderate his speed on the bridge in the future and stay out of the left lane when the bridge is open to two-way traffic.

"I'm one of those cheaters," he said. "I keep my cruise control at 60 (mph). I get to the bridge and I knock it down to 50 and people still cruise by me."

The massive pile up shut down the westbound span for hours, rerouting commuters north on U.S. 301.

However, large trucks on the bridge were not able to turn around and had to wait for the span to reopen.

One of the eastbound lanes was also closed off so rescue crews could reach the scene, which brought traffic to a crawl. Eastbound Route 50 was backed up to the exit for northbound Route 2 at 9 p.m. last night.

Structural engineers have examined the bridge by boat, air and on the span itself. "The bridge was found to be structurally sound and safe to be reopened," Chief Brown said.

By midnight, all westbound lanes on the bridge were open. No problems were reported with this morning's commute.

Stores and gas stations around the eastern side of the bridge were busy last night with stranded motorists waiting for westbound lanes to reopen.

Melodie Shreve was staffing the Shore Stop in Stevensville, about a mile from the eastern end of the bridge, by herself.

Asked if they were busier than usual, she said: "Oh my goodness, if you only knew."

"They can't get across the bridge to go home so they're just hanging out until the bridge opens up. It's good for business, but it's not good for me here all alone."

The Best Western in Grasonville, a few miles from the bridge was sold out by 8 p.m., according to Melissa Hess, a front desk supervisor at the hotel.

There was a steady stream of people who gave up on waiting and decided to stay the night, she said, At least a third of the 92 rooms were taken by walk-ins, Ms. Hess said. Some guests had even given up the second rooms in their suites to help out the stranded motorists, she said.

A spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley called the collision "a horrible freak accident" but doubted last night's shutdown will provide any new impetus to locate and build a second bay crossing.

"The Department (of Transportation) is always looking for improvements. I'm sure they'll be doing it for this accident, too," spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

Last year a bay crossing committee appointed by former Gov. Robert Ehrlich wrapped up its yearlong study without issuing a recommendation on a new bridge.