The driver of an overheight load that struck the Interstate 5 bridge last month, causing it to collapse, said he felt “crowded” by another tractor-trailer that was passing him on the left just before they crossed the bridge.
The driver said he moved his load to the right to avoid the other truck and then “collided with the overhead portal and multiple sway braces” of the bridge, according to a preliminary report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The report includes many details already known about the incident that happened about 7 p.m. May 23.
The tractor-trailer was headed south on I-5 from Alberta, Canada to Vancouver, Wash., and was following a pilot car. A pilot car is supposed to drive in front of an overheight vehicle to make sure its load can pass under a bridge or overpass.
The pilot car driver, Tammy DeTray of Olympia, told the NTSB she set the height pole attached to the top of her vehicle to check clearance at 16-foot-2-inches.
DeTray issued a statement last week saying she was on a work-related phone call with her husband as she drove across the bridge, using a hands-free device as required by state law.
Her statement did not say which lane she was in when her vehicle crossed the bridge. Some areas of the bridge are 18 feet high — more than enough room to accommodate the load, which was permitted for 15-foot-9 inches.
But other areas of the bridge are much lower. The height of the bridge at the fog line is 15-foot-6-inches and 14-foot-8-inches high closer to the right-side barrier.
In her statement, DeTray said she was “horrified” when she saw the bridge span collapse in her rear-view mirror, and met with the State Patrol on scene.
DeTray said she did not detect a strike when the pilot car drove across the bridge.
Three people were injured when the northernmost span collapsed into the river. Nobody died.
The tractor-trailer driver and other witnesses told the NTSB that another tractor-trailer had passed the overheight load on the left just before it crossed the bridge.
State Patrol Sgt. Jerry Cooper said the department has received a number of tips about the driver of the other tractor-trailer. Cooper is on the major accident investigation team looking into the bridge collapse, the crash that led to the death of Trooper Sean O’Connell May 31 and seven other cases.
“Investigationally this will take a year,” he said of the bridge collapse.
The NTSB report does not specify where the overheight load struck the bridge, or how high the load was in comparison to the height of the permit. NTSB Investigators examined an identical load to the one that struck the bridge to make accurate measurements. These types of details are likely to be released several months from now, NTSB Spokesman Peter Knudson said last week.
The bridge carries about 71,000 vehicles per day along Interstate 5.