BURLINGTON — The man driving the tractor-trailer that sent part of the Interstate 5 bridge into the Skagit River Thursday night told investigators he was not warned of any height risks, the chair of the agency leading an investigation said Saturday.
William Scott has driven commercial vehicles for more than 20 years — about half his life. He and his employer, Canadian company Mullen Trucking, had worked with the pilot-car company used Thursday night, but Scott told investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board he’d never worked with this driver before.
NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman recounted Scott's testimony to reporters at a press conference Saturday afternoon.
Scott met the pilot car that would lead him in at the Canada/U.S. border. She said she’d notify him of any problems as she drove ahead of him that night. He told her not to bother calling every bridge out over the radio — just any where there would be a problem.
Before the Skagit River, he told investigators, he didn’t hear a peep.
It should have been fine. The state-issued permit allowed for 15 feet, 9 inches — the exact height of his load, and the clearance height of the Skagit River bridge.
But the bridge’s elliptical frames are that high only in the middle. On the outside corners, the clearance is 14 feet, 6 inches.
None of this is marked on the highway approaching the bridge. No signs explain it; for clearances taller than 14-foot-4, no law requires them to. Permits issued to truckers warn they are responsible for their route, and for determining whether their load will fit everywhere they go.
That’s what the pilot car is supposed to do. Scott told investigators that as he followed it south onto the bridge, the height pole extending skyward from the pilot car didn’t cause him concern, Hersman said.
As they entered the bridge in the right lane, Scott told investigators, another commercial vehicle approached in the left lane trying to pass the wide load.
Scott heard and felt his load hit the bridge, describing it to investigators as a “boom” sound, Hersman said. When he pulled over, another driver told him the northernmost span had collapsed, so he walked back across the bridge to see it, she said.
Scott spoke with police officers right away, Hersman said.
Investigators plan to interview the driver of the pilot car and other witnesses, watch video footage and inspect tire marks in the coming days to better piece together what happened, she said.