News

Wreck closes bridge

Wind gusts are believed to be the cause of a head-on collision that closed the Deception Pass Bridge Friday morning, left an 18-wheeler teetering over the guardrail that kept it from plummeting more than 150-feet to the water below, and delayed hundreds of rush-hour motorists for hours.

At approximately 7 a.m., Vancouver resident Gene Schaible, a 47-year-old truck driver transporting furniture to Oak Harbor, was traveling south on Highway 20.

As he drove onto the bridge, wind gusts lifted the trailer and started pushing it into the northbound lane. Schaible said his cab eventually drifted over into oncoming traffic.

Schaible said it was the first heavy gust that he experienced Friday. “I didn’t feel a thing until I got out on the bridge. Then it was too late,” he said.

After seeing a pickup traveling north over the bridge, he slammed on the brakes. However, the two vehicles collided and the pickup ended up under the front wheel of the semi.

Schaible found himself looking down on the water and had to climb out of the truck through the passenger door.

The wind was able to lift the trailer because of the light load, Schaible said.

The driver of the 1981 Toyota pickup, Oak Harbor resident Charol Brodt, was transported to Whidbey General Hospital where he was treated and released. Schaible was uninjured and remained at the scene while rescue crews determined how to clean up the accident.

They thought the best course of action was to wait for weather conditions to improve before attempting to move either vehicle.

“We’re basically at the mercy of the weather at this point,” said State Patrol Sgt. Don Ney.

Island County Fire District Chief Marv Koorn said that the winds were sustained at around 50 mph with at least one gust reaching 70 mph.

He added that the wind speed presented a great risk of injury.

Cleanup crews spent the morning monitoring the wind and waiting for conditions to improve.

By approximately 1 p.m., the winds died down enough for tow trucks to venture onto the bridge and remove the vehicles.

Koorn added that the bridge was opened for traffic half an hour later.

“It came over real gentle,” Koorn said, describing removal of the semi. “I was surprised how easy it came over.”

The bridge itself sustained minor damage to the handrail and cable. Kim Glass, maintenance supervisor for the Washington State Department of Transportation, said the bridge structure wasn’t damaged.

Because of the bridge closure, traffic was turned back at Cornet Bay Road. However, several people waited in hopes of a rapid cleanup.

Oak Harbor resident George Marin was traveling to work in Mount Vernon. He was about three cars behind the pickup when the vehicles collided.

“I approached the bridge and saw the truck lights at an odd angle,” Marin said. He spent about a half an hour on the bridge before he could turn around.

Instead of heading home, he spent the morning at the Whidbey Market near the Deception Pass State Park in hopes of making it to work.

“At least I’ll know when (the bridge) is going to be open,” Marin said.

He waited with fellow Oak Harbor resident, Roxanna Moser. She was trying to get to Whitney Elementary School in Anacortes where she is a kindergarten teacher.

After spending the first part of her morning waiting for the bridge to open, she decided on a different course. She drove south to catch the Clinton ferry.

“I have 36 five-year-olds waiting,” Moser said. “They really need me.”

Moser wasn’t the only one that decided to head down to the ferry. Motorists had to waiting approximately 90 minutes to catch the ferry over to Mukilteo, according to a Washington State Ferry spokesperson.

Friday’s incident was the second bridge closure in less than a year. A similar accident occurred last May when a late-model Mustang convertible, traveling north on Highway 20, veered into oncoming traffic and collided head on with a semi truck at the mid-span of the bridge.

You can reach News-Times reporter Nathan Whalen at nwhalen@whidbeynewstimes.com.

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