Man dies in plunge off overpass; State police puzzled by tragic aftermath of I-97 crash near Crofton


State troopers were trying to figure out yesterday why a Baltimore County man made a bizarre dash from his wrecked car on an Interstate 97 overpass, leaping over a barrier and plunging 40 feet to his death on the highway below.

"There is no indication of any foul play at all," Detective Sgt. David C. Reichenbaugh said of the death shortly after 9 Thursday night north of Crofton of 31-year-old James Douglas Watson of Overlea. "We don't know what may have entered this young man's mind. There was no reason for this guy to have been running."

Awaiting autopsy results

Police speculated that Watson may have been disoriented after the crash, or that alcohol might have been a factor. They were awaiting autopsy results.

Watson had left friends at an Annapolis bar and was on his way home shortly after 9 p.m., heading north on I-97 near Crofton, when his 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier hit the right guardrail at a high speed and spun out of control, flipped onto its side and slid before coming to rest upright facing northbound traffic, police said. The speed limit on the highway is 65 mph.

The driver's door was pinned against the barrier on the right shoulder of the road.

Reichenbaugh said Watson jumped out of the passenger's side, ran across the highway and leaped over the center barrier -- which is directly over the westbound lanes of Route 32.

He died when he landed on the shoulder of the highway.

Depression ruled out

Police said they initially thought Watson might have been depressed, because his father had died a week earlier and been buried on Wednesday, but have ruled that out.

"We are assuming he was trying to get out of the road and jumped off the Jersey [wall] not realizing he was on a bridge," Reichenbaugh said.

An older brother, William Watson III, said the victim had recently moved from his parents' home in the 600 block of Meadow Road near Overlea to an apartment in Baltimore.

The brother said James Watson had graduated from Towson University with degrees in business and psychology, and worked in personnel at several area companies before recently finding a job at the Tutoring Connection in Towson, helping students prepare for standardized testing.

He said his family was distraught after the death of William Watson Jr., who died of brain cancer after a yearlong illness.

"At least with my dad, we knew it was going to happen; we got to say what we had to say," he said. "This just happened."

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