A major accident on Tuesday morning caused a large portion of U.S. Highway 79 to be blocked off and has a Jacksonville man listed in critical condition.
Edwin Patrick Dolan, 76, of Jacksonville was taken to Palestine Regional Hospital and air-flighted to East Texas Medical Center in Tyler after the collision. Officials said he was in the intensive care unit and listed in critical condition. At press time, no one else was injured.
Early Tuesday morning a 300,000-pound piece of industrial equipment, a hydraulic press used to create automotive parts, was being transported from the Dana Corporation in Longview to Monterrey, Mexico, said Mike Mitchell, director of North American projects for Contractors Cargo Company.
“We were taking it to Laredo, to the Colombian River Crossing Bridge and then a Mexican carrier was coming to pick it up for us,” Mitchell said. “They were going to use our trailer to take it all the way into Monterrey.”
In order move the weight, the trailer had two trucks moving it, one pulling and the other pushing, as well as two escort trucks, one in front and one behind signaling drivers of the approaching mass. The load was so large, it took up the entire two-lane bridge over the Neches River.
Mitchell said normal protocol in this situation is to have one of the escorts drive ahead, turn sideways, flip on lights, and have the driver with a sign stopping traffic. Officials said Tuesday around 8:30 a.m., Dolan's silver Honda Civic did not heed warnings and went across the bridge anyway.
“He went around, so she radioed real fast to the truck, 'Start slowing down there's a car coming. I couldn't stop him,' and they started slowing down, but they couldn't stop fast enough for how fast he was coming,” Mitchell said.
The truck was moving toward Palestine and Dolan was headed toward Jacksonville. The collision occurred just feet from the county line between Anderson and Cherokee counties.
“What should have happened is the car should have yielded to this escort driver and noticed that there is a this wide load coming down the bridge, and he couldn't make it,” Department of Pubic Safety Trooper Cody Sheperd said.
The impact caused Dolan's car to go airborne on top of the guard rail.
“Basically he rode the rail like a skateboard and when it gave way, it pushed him over. He went down into the river,” Sheperd said.
The car did not flip over, but slid down the embankment. Officials said the incident could have been worse.
“I didn't see it, but he is a very fortunate man because he hit the steering arm and we had no way to steer (the trailer) ... but the guys were already locking the truck down and they were hitting the brakes as fast as they could, but with this kind of weight you can't hit your brakes solid,” Mitchell said. “If you do, this thing is going to slide up at you.”
DPS is investigating the accident.
“Our department doesn't determine fault. We just determine who has the most contributing factors,” Sheperd said.
While doctors cared for Dolan, officials considered exactly how to get the roadway cleared. They said it would take a heavy-duty crane to pick up the equipment and they would need to transfer it onto another trailer. This could be especially difficult on a bridge. Mitchell said a crane was coming in from Longview and a trailer was en route from Houston to help move the parts.
Anderson County Precinct 2 Commissioner Doug Lightfoot said officials are unsure of exactly how to go about getting the equipment off of the bridge because the truck and trailer could be the only things holding the press on the roadway. He said the bridge rail would have to be taken apart and the trailer would have to be cut into pieces before the crane could move it.
“It's going to be a massive undertaking. It's going to be a while,” said Anderson County Precinct 3 Commissioner Kim Dickson