Wednesday, June 25, 2008

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.

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