A lawsuit filed this week by the Washington State Department of Transportation is seeking at least $17 million to recover costs related to the 2013 Skagit River bridge collapse.
The lawsuit, filed in Skagit County Superior Court, names several parties as responsible: William Scott, the truck driver whose oversized truck hit the bridge; the driver’s employer, Mullen Trucking LP; the pilot car driver, Tammy Detray, and her company, G&T Crawlers; and the owner of the metal shed being transported, Saxon Energy Services, Inc.
A section of the bridge fell into the water after Scott’s load hit the bridge in Mount Vernon, about 60 miles north of Seattle in May 2013. Two other vehicles fell into the Skagit River, and three people were rescued with minor injuries.
The filing notes that the vertical clearance pole mounted on Detray’s truck repeatedly struck the overhead bridge sway braces, but states that because she was talking on a cellphone at the time, she didn’t relay that information to Scott. The suit also states that Scott should have known that he had positioned his oversized load on the side of the bridge that has the least clearance.
“The sudden, unexpected and catastrophic collapse of the Skagit River Bridge caused by the defendants’ actions placed the lives of other motorists at or near the Skagit River Bridge in immediate jeopardy,” the lawsuit states.
In November, the Washington State Patrol issued a report on its final findings from the collapse, saying that Scott hit 11 arced sway braces on the bridge during the accident that sent two cars into the river.
The report notes that Scott, who was driving the truck with the tall load for Mullen Trucking, was permitted to carry a load of no higher than 15-feet nine inches. After the collapse, his truck was measured at 15-feet 11 inches, a detail that was previously made public during a National Transportation Safety Board investigation. Scott was ticketed last May for negligent driving.
In July, the National Transportation Safety Board said that insufficient route planning, a distracted pilot driver and an inadequate permitting process by the state of Washington all played a part in the accident.
Detray told investigators the clearance pole mounted on her vehicle never struck the bridge. She also said she was using her cellphone on a hands-free device at the time of the accident.
However, in the most recent report, state patrol detectives determined that the pole did hit the bridge, and should have triggered a warning. Investigators also found that Scott was trailing too close to the pilot car, and wouldn’t have been able to stop in time even if he was notified.
Ed Scherbinski, president, of Canada-based Mullen Trucking said by phone Monday that he had heard a filing was coming, but hadn’t yet seen it and couldn’t comment. Scherbinski said that Scott is still employed with the company, but was currently on a job in the Artic and wasn’t available for comment. A message left with Saxon Energy Services, Inc. was not immediately returned. A woman who identified herself as Detray’s daughter at a number listed for her company said that her mother was not interested in talking.
The 59-year-old Skagit bridge carries an average of 71,000 vehicles a day over the river on I-5, Washington’s major north-south roadway between Oregon and Canada. Workers installed an emergency span and then replaced it with a permanent one in September 2013.
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