Driver charged with improper lane change for Ravenel Bridge accident

VIDEO: Southbound lanes of Ravenel Bridge reopen
Diagram of the accident from the traffic report.
Diagram of the accident from the traffic report.

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Authorities have charged a 31-year-old Charleston woman with improper lane change for the Tuesday accident on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge that shut it down for many hours.

According to a traffic report released Wednesday afternoon, at 10:40 a.m., a tanker was traveling northbound on the bridge when a car, which was three lanes over to the right, swerved to the left to avoid a stalled vehicle.

The report states the car crossed oncoming traffic, sideswiped the tanker causing the car to become lodged underneath, beneath the trailer axles.

Police say the truck dragged the car a short distance until it came to a rest 150 feet north of the East Bay Street ramp.

The driver of the car was transported to the Medical University of South Carolina, police say she had minor injuries, while the driver of the truck was not injured, according to the report.

In addition, a firefighter who responded to the incident was transported to a local hospital for dehydration.

A report by the Charleston Fire Department states its crews, along with the Mount Pleasant Fire Department and Charleston County EMS, were dispatched at 10:43 a.m.

First responders determined that the tractor trailer was carrying 7,800 gallons of diesel fuel.

Charleston County EMS personnel quickly extracted the driver of the car and confirmed that the tanker may be leaking fuel. Fire personnel said they determined the tanker was leaking diesel fuel and requested the Charleston Police Department to shut down the northbound lanes of the bridge to traffic.

CFD officials report that fire personnel quickly applied oil dry to the leaking diesel to limit the spread on the bridge and into the water. Authorities say they also determined the undercarriage valves of the tanker were damaged causing the fuel to leak from multiple points.

Additional resources including hazardous materials team members from the Charleston and Mount Pleasant Fire Departments were requested. Marine units with CFD and the US Coast Guard Sector Charleston were then called in to determine if the leak had extended into the waterway below.

A CFD report states that hazardous materials team members were unable to stop the leak with emergency shutoff valves located on the trailer.

"For safety of personnel on scene and to safely mitigate the hazard, on-scene commanders made the decision to close the southbound lanes of the bridge at 12:40 p.m. after a collision occurred on the southbound span adjacent to the incident," a CFD report states. "Hazmat personnel continually rotated capturing leaking fuel and transferred it to drums while awaiting the arrival of offloading equipment from Georgetown. Fire suppression crews were in place and rotated frequently due to heat and to provide protection in case the fuel ignited."

Hazmat members collected 300 gallons of fuel that leaked from the damaged tanker. An unknown amount of fuel entered the waterway through the bridge's drainage system.

The offloading tanker arrived and transferred the fuel which took two hours. After the fuel was transferred, emergency personnel coordinated with towing services to separate the vehicles and remove them from the scene.

A private company completed the cleanup of product on the roadway before the bridge was reopened.

"The Ravenel Bridge was completely reopened at approximately 7:55 p.m.," states a CFD press release."The Charleston Fire Department would like to thank the public for their patience while personnel mitigated the incident."

Southbound lanes of the Ravenel Bridge opened just before 7:30 p.m..

Authorities had estimated the bridge might be closed until as late as 4 p.m., but at 3:45 p.m., Charleston police posted through the department's Twitter account the closure of the bridge would continue "at least several more hours."

The shutdown of the bridge caused a chain reaction of traffic delays throughout the area, with drive times from Mount Pleasant to West Ashley estimated to be more than an hour and a half. The Charleston County School District warned parents to expect delays as the district worked to get children home from school amid growing backups on alternate routes.

The Coast Guard dispatched a unit to monitor the Cooper River where a gas sheen has been reported on the water. Coast Guard crews were working on containment and efforts to make sure no more fuel leaks into the water.

The state's Department of Health and Environmental Control was also called to the scene.

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