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Witness to Bay Bridge crash recounts 'surreal' sight of car going over edge

Chesapeake Bay Bridge

It's a scenario many have thought about but no one expects to see, and suddenly it was flashing before his eyes.

Scott Fortney, a 41-year-old real estate broker who lives in Arlington and also has a home in St. Michaels, was about three cars behind a tractor trailer on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Friday when its tail end skidded off to one side, and he saw a car pop up and go over the railing of the bridge.

"It was completely surreal, unbelievable," Fortney said. "The first thing you think is, 'Oh my gosh, what has just happened here? What I'm witnessing is hardly ever seen.' It's like out of a movie or something."

Fortney recounted his experience on Wednesday, hours after posting a riveting video from the crash scene on YouTube.

The video doesn't show the crash, but something equally dramatic: Morgan Jade Lake, 22, of Sunderland, clinging to a piling of rocks around one of the bridge's pillars, still halfway in the water after having survived the fall of about 40 feet, escaped her seatbelt and then her car and then swam to the surface.

"When I got over to the rail, she had just emerged from the water and was swimming to the rocks," Fortney said. "One of the first questions was, 'Is there anybody with you?' But she resoundingly said 'no' to that question several times."

Lake was alone. Shortly after she reached the rocks, she asked Fortney and the other witnesses still on the bridge above her to call her mother. She gave someone her mother's number, and he called her while another man called 911, Fortney said.

Fortney and others shouted down reassurances to Lake. Fortney, amazed, also thought to film what was going on with his phone, he said.

"It was miraculous that she was on the rocks, and I felt maybe I can capture this," he said. "But primarily everyone was concerned with her well being."

Lake was eventually taken by helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, and was discharged Saturday.

Her 2007 Chrysler Sebring had been struck by a truck operated by Gabor Lovasz of Charlottetown, Canada. Lovasz was not injured.

From the bridge, with emergency responders en route, Fortney and others yelled down to Lake.

"If you were in her position, you'd want somebody talking to you, reassuring you," he said.

Fortney then called his wife to explain why he wasn't in St. Michaels yet, where he was supposed to be meeting her and their three children.

Janet Fortney said when her husband relayed what he had just witnessed, she urged him to get back in his own car and off the bridge.

"You wonder what else could happen when emergency vehicles start coming," she said.

Fortney said the situation on the bridge as they waited and tried to flag down passing boaters was eerie and too quiet, watching the waves lap slowly against the rocks below, Lake pulling herself into a higher position to sit, a wheel of her car still visible just about a foot under the water.

"It kind of just gives me the chills thinking about it," he said.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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