Texas Interstate Bridge Collapse Kills 1, Injures 3

Authorities investigate a tractor-trailer that crashed into an overpass under construction March 26, 2015, in Salado, Texas. (Photo: Rusty Schramm, AP)
Authorities investigate a tractor-trailer that crashed into an overpass under construction March 26, 2015, in Salado, Texas.
(Photo: Rusty Schramm, AP)

Interstate 35 here was shut down in both directions Thursday after a bridge collapse that has killed at least one person and injured three others, according to Texas Department of Public Safety officials.

The collapse occurred about 11:30 a.m. CT near exit 286 north of Salado, about 40 miles north of Austin, according to Becky Ozuna, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

A semi-trailer traveling northbound on I-35 dislodged two steel and concrete beams on an overpass that is under construction, which fell on several vehicles on the interstate, she said.

The driver of a pickup truck, a 32-year-old man from Arlington, Texas, was traveling under the bridge in the opposite direction at the time and died, said Trooper D.L. Wilson of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The victim’s name was not released pending notification of family.

The truck, which was too tall for the overpass, came to a stop under the bridge with its cab heavily damaged.

“It looked wedged underneath the bridge,” said Corbin Casteel, who was traveling from Austin to Dallas for business when he came upon the accident.

The clearance for the bridge may be in dispute: It is actually 14 feet and ½ inch, but three signs in the area display a vertical clearance of 13.5 feet, according to Texas Transportation Department officials. However, a reporter at the scene saw a sign beside the bridge that said 14 feet 3 inches.

Drivers of large trucks have rammed their vehicles under bridges before though typically they’re aware of the height limitations before they try to pass through, said Harpin Myers, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman.

“It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen,” he said.

Trucks with loads higher than 14 feet must have a permit for an oversized load, according to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Officials at Lares Trucking, which owns the truck that caused the crash, did not know the exact height of its truck and cargo.

The truck was a flatbed hauling an elevated work platform known as a cherry picker, and it passed under the overpass before the beams fell. Owner Julian Lares said he had a permit to carry the load and did not know the bridge was too low.

“It’s a new bridge. Why don’t they construct it more high?” Lares said. “It’s a new bridge. It’s not an old bridge. … Why (did) they consider the permit for such a small bridge?”

After the accident, three people were transported to a nearby hospital with unknown but not life-threatening injuries, said Lt. Donnie Adams of the Bell County Sheriff’s Office. Another pickup truck and at least three semi-trailers were damaged in the incident, which remains under investigation.

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SOURCE: USA Today / KVUE-TV, Austin, Texas

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