An eastbound Ryder tractor-trailer, driven by Giovanni Maldonado, 30, of Wicomico County began shimmying across the blacktop from the right lane to the left as if pushed by an invisible hand. It slammed into the guardrail and then, with its brakes on, continued to be pushed about 40 yards along the concrete barrier.
Vitale, driving an 8,000-pound pickup truck, felt a jolt "like someone ran into the back of my truck" and hit the brakes. Charles, about five car lengths back in a four-door sedan, did likewise.
"It sounded like a 747 hit the bridge," Charles said. "I wasn't even sure there was any bridge left beyond the truck."
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William Preston Lane Jr Memorial Bridge, MD, USA
Police closed the eastbound span and later the westbound span when scaffolding parts came loose.
Trying to regain his composure and control of the situation, Vitale pulled the driver's side of his pickup as close as he could to the guardrail and looked around.
"The whitecaps were incredible," he said. "The guy in the truck, he was lucky to be alive. His driver's side window was looking straight down at the water. If he had gone over, there would have been no way to get him help."
Maldonado got out.
"I saw a man, shirtless, coming toward me, his face bloody. I asked him if he wanted me to take him to the hospital. He said, 'I can't, I have to stay with the truck,'" Charles recalled.
The trucker, who could not be reached for comment, was treated at a hospital and released.
Vitale and Charles said that given the warnings elsewhere, closing the bridge would have been the prudent thing to do.
"If they had said, 'Go home, be safe, come back tomorrow.' I would gladly have done it," Charles said. "Anyone who was on the bridge that night would have."