Washington DOT sues trucker and others over bridge collapse

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 2/3/2015

The Washington State Department of Transportation has filed a $17 million lawsuit against a truck driver, his carrier, a pilot car operator and others in an attempt to recoup costs associated with replacing the Interstate 5 bridge that collapsed into the Skagit River in May 2013.

The agency’s filing in Skagit County Superior Court on Monday, Feb. 2, names five defendants: truck driver William Scott; Canadian carrier Mullen Trucking; pilot car operator Tammy Detray; pilot car service G&T Crawlers; and a company called Saxon Energy Services, which owned the oversized cargo that Scott was hauling.

According to testimony on file with the National Transportation Safety Board, Scott was hauling an over-dimensional load and trailing a pilot car as he approached the Skagit River Bridge on Interstate 5 on May 23, 2013.

Just before he crossed the bridge, Scott was overtaken on his left by another truck attempting to pass. The attempted pass prevented Scott from positioning the load on the bridge to allow sufficient overhead clearance. The load struck overhead bridge supports, and seconds later a section of the bridge collapsed into the river below. While the trucks made it across, two trailing passenger vehicles fell to the river below. The occupants were rescued and not seriously injured.

The NTSB investigation concluded that a number of deficiencies and failures contributed to the collapse.

The bridge was brittle and had been struck numerous times in the past by trucks. Investigators stated that the pilot car driver had “likely” been talking on a cellphone at the time of the incident, albeit on a hands-free device. The investigation did not reveal whether the phone call was job-related or personal.

NTSB investigators said the trucker did not know the accurate height of his oversized load to the inch and that an inaccurate dimension was listed on the permit he obtained from the state. NTSB also said the trucker had been following the pilot car too closely and did not do enough to anticipate the situation.

The state DOT cites a report by the Washington State Patrol Major Accident Investigation Team that arrived at many of the same conclusions as NTSB.

The DOT lawsuit also refers to a state law that says the owner of the cargo – in this case Saxon Energy Services – is at least partly financially responsible for the damage.

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