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Trucker was distracted before July Bay Bridge accident

The trucker who struck a woman's car on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge last month and sent it plunging into the water was momentarily distracted before the crash, according to a preliminary report on the accident released Monday.

The National Transportation Safety Board reviewed the July 19 collision, in which a tractor-trailer struck a Chrysler driven by 22-year-old Morgan Lake of Southern Maryland not far past the toll plazas at the beginning of the eastbound span. The Chrysler dropped 27 feet into the water, and Lake was able to swim to the jetty with only minor injuries, the NTSB found.

The driver told NTSB investigators he was distracted by "lights and sounds" behind him in the moments before the crash and that he unsuccessfully tried to avoid hitting the vehicles in front of him when he turned his attention back to the road, according to the report. Weather and mechanical issues did not appear to be a factor in the crash, NTSB found.

The truck driver, a Hungarian immigrant living in Canada as part of that country's Temporary Foreign Worker pilot project, was driving for his first time in the United States without a more experienced driver with him, NTSB found. The 29-year-old trucker had been employed since April by Bulk Carriers PEI Limited, based in Prince Edward Island, according to the report.

The truck driver has not been identified publicly by state or federal authorities.

The incident prompted the NTSB investigation amid fears that the Bay Bridge could be unsafe for drivers. The NTSB found only one other instance in which vehicles have fallen into the water off of the bridge, a 2008 case in which a driver was killed when his tractor-trailer broke through a concrete barrier.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who called for the review, released a statement following the preliminary report that praised NTSB for "their commitment to get to the bottom of this horrific crash."

She said she looked forward to getting further recommendations on bridge safety from the agency.

"This time of year, Maryland families are crossing the Bay Bridge for vacations on the Eastern Shore. Others travel the bridge daily, commuting to and from work," she said. "No matter your destination, everyone should feel safe crossing the bridge."

The truck driver had traveled to Orange, Va., to make a delivery and was on his way to pick up another load in Maryland at the time of the crash, the NTSB found. He was not injured.

A third vehicle was involved in the crash, though the occupants were uninjured and the car remained on the span.

cwells@baltsun.com

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