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MSP and highway officials investigating I-70 accident

No lanes were closed as crews worked on the shoulder of interstate

July 15, 2010|By DAVE McMILLION

Investigators are looking into "what was blocked, what was not" along Interstate 70 when beams hanging from a crane struck a tractor-trailer Wednesday, a Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman said Thursday.

State highway officials and Maryland State Police are investigating the accident that critically injured a female passenger as the rig approached the Md. 66 exit of eastbound I-70, according to Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar.

Two large support beams being used to install signs spun into the roadway at about 9 a.m., piercing the cab of the tractor-trailer and striking Evonne J. Whalen, 45, of East Bernstadt, Ky., in the legs, police said. Whalen's husband, Timothy Whalen, 53, was driving the rig.

Evonne Whalen was in critical condition Thursday afternoon at R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, a hospital official said. Timothy Whalen was treated and released Wednesday from Washington County Hospital, a spokesperson there said.

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State Police Sgt. Cpl. Phil Martin said Thursday the crew installing signs along the highway was working on the shoulder of the interstate. No lanes of the interstate were closed, he said.

Martin said signs were posted along the highway to warn motorists of the work, but he did not know how many signs were posted. He said he was not familiar with regulations about lane closures or signs for such projects.

Gischlar said any warning signs or lane closures for highway projects depend on the scope of the project. Before a project begins, highway officials look at the volume of traffic on a road, how many lanes are on the road and other variables before a determination is made on safety procedures, Gischlar said.

"There's so much criteria there," Gischlar said.

Any precautions that are required for a road project are outlined in a "maintenance of traffic plan," Gischlar said.

Gischlar said state highway officials are going to examine the plan that was in place for the work area where the accident occurred.

"They're digging through the paperwork and looking for them now," Gischlar said Thursday.

Gischlar said the investigation of Wednesday's accident will look at many issues, including weather conditions.

"It's a complete investigation," Gischlar said.

Gischlar said there are federal guidelines that must be followed regarding safety procedures for road projects. Maryland's regulations follow those requirements, he said.

Police said a boom truck was lifting the beams Wednesday when crane operator Jeff Baker, 39, of Mount Savage, Md., lost control.

Timothy Whalen told police that he saw the beams swing into the roadway, but that he was unable to avoid a collision.

Gischlar said Thursday he did not know why the beams swung into the highway. He said a state police crash unit will be in charge of that part of the investigation.

Officials with the crash unit could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Martin said no charges had been filed as of Thursday afternoon.

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