MOUNT VERNON, Wash. – The wife of a Canadian trucker linked to a dramatic bridge collapse in Washington state says her husband had all the permits he needed and she doesn’t believe he is responsible for bringing the structure down.
Cynthia Scott says she spoke with her husband, Bill Scott, right after he saw the Interstate 5 bridge crash into the Skagit River about 15 metres below.
“He looked in the mirrors and it just dropped out of sight,” she said Friday from the couple’s home on a rural property near Spruce Grove, Alta., just west of Edmonton. “I spoke to him seconds after it happened. He was just horrified.
“They’re saying in the news that he plowed into the (bridge) and I’m going, ‘No, he didn’t plow into anything.'”
The Washington State Patrol has confirmed that the truck hit a support girder on the bridge Thursday night. That sent part of the span thundering into the river below. Sgt. Kirk Rudeen said the collision appears to have led to the collapse, which took two vehicles with it.
“It happened extremely quickly … the bridge was basically collapsing behind (the driver) as he was coming to the other side of it,” Rudeen said.
Three people were rescued from the chilly water and were recovering.
The company Scott was driving for, Mullen Trucking, said it was sending investigators to the scene. Spokesman Ed Scherbinski said the truck was hauling a piece of drilling equipment called a casing shed.
“It’s basically just an empty, oversized shipping container,” he said.
The Washington state Department of Transportation had approved the company’s plan to drive across the bridge along Interstate 5 to Vancouver, Wash., Scherbinski said.
Cynthia Scott said a special car equipped with poles, typically 1 1/2 metres higher than the highest point of a load, had travelled the truck’s route beforehand to make sure everything would fit.
She said there was a small ding in one of the front corners of the load — not what you would expect if a truck had hit hard enough to bring a bridge down. She wonders if the bridge was already falling apart as the truck was going across.
“It would seem extremely strange that something so small could topple a bridge,” she said. “It does seem very bizarre that something like this did happen.”
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 that means the bridge design is outdated and there may be narrow shoulders or low clearance underneath.
The bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, federal records indicate. That is well below the statewide average rating of 80, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data.
Some 759 bridges in the state have a lower sufficiency score.
Dan Sligh and his wife were in a pickup truck that spiralled into the water. They were heading out on a camping trip when 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.”
The couple was taken to Skagit Valley Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. A man who had been in another vehicle was reported in stable condition at United General Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, hospital CEO Greg Reed said.
Scott, 41, typically sleeps in his truck, but it’s been impounded so he’s in a hotel, his wife said. Father of a young son, he has been driving truck for 20 years and hauling specialized loads for more than 10.
“He gets safety awards, safety bonuses just for being so anal for doing all these checks, for hiring the right pilot cars and pole cars,” his wife said.
— By Tim Cook in Edmonton with files from The Associated Press.