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29-year-old tractor-trailer driver hit two vehicles last month

By KATIE FITZPATRICK

Staff writer

The primary cause of the crash in which the car Morgan Lake was driving was pushed from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge 27 feet into the water below was ruled as distracted driving on the part of the tractor-trailer driver, according to Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

The driver of the tractor-trailer, 29-year-old Gabor Lovasz of Canada, has been charged by MDTA Police with failure to control speed to avoid a collision, unsafe lane changing, negligent driving and speed greater than reasonable and prudent on highway. Lovasz faces a total fine of $670, according to a press release.

“Morgan’s very happy that charges have been filed, and she looks forward to the Bay Bridge being a safer place as a result of that,” Lake’s attorney, Wayne Cohen of Cohen & Cohen PC, said in a phone interview Friday.

When asked whether Lake is planning on taking any legal action against Lovasz or Bulk Carriers PEI, Cohen said, “Right now, Morgan is considering all options that are available, but her true focus is on healing and getting better. At some point down the road, she’ll decide how she wants to handle things.”

MDTA released the collision reconstruction report Thursday morning detailing the July 19 accident on the bridge.

In an earlier interview, Lake, 23, of Dunkirk told The Calvert Recorder that at about 8:24 p.m. July 19, she was driving her 2007 Chrysler Sebring east across the bridge on her way to Philadelphia when her car was hit by a tractor-trailer.

Lake’s Chrysler went through the toll plaza and was traveling in the right lane behind a 2014 Mazda, driven by Herbert A. Sutcliffe Jr. of Olney. The report states that “For unknown reasons, traffic in front of these two vehicles slowed,” causing the Mazda and Chrysler to slow to speeds well below the posted 40 mph speed limit on the bridge.

A tractor-trailer, driven by Lovasz, went through the toll booth and was in the right lane behind Lake’s vehicle, the report states, and was “accelerating or moving at a constant speed as opposed to other vehicles, which were slowing down.” Lovasz, in the report, said to try to avoid the collision, he swerved to the left lane. Two witnesses identified in the report said they did not see the tractor-trailer’s brake lights until after it hit the Chrysler.

Lovasz indicated to investigators that his attention was directed to his driver’s side mirror due to flashing headlights behind him, according to an MDTA press release. When he looked forward again, he said he noticed the vehicles in front of him were stopping, so he tried to steer the tractor-trailer to the left to avoid contact, but struck the left rear of the Chrysler, pushing it up onto the top of the barrier wall, the release states.

The tractor-trailer “disengaged” the Chrysler and entered the left lane, but then “veered back” into the right lane. The truck hit the back left portion of the Mazda, causing it to spin nearly 180 degrees and come to a rest in the left lane facing west, the report states.

According to the report, the tractor-trailer “re-engaged” the Chrysler, and “When the box-trailer made its final contact with [the Chrysler], there was sufficient momentum and force … that this final contact pushed the car over the parapet wall and off of the bridge.”

Lake fell 27 feet from the bridge into the water, officials said. The impact of the tractor-trailer hitting the Chrysler had shattered its windows, and once the vehicle entered the bay, water “rushed through” the car windows, causing the vehicle to begin to sink.

Lake was able to escape the vehicle by unbuckling her seat belt and swimming to a nearby bridge pier abutment, the release states. The Chrysler “came to a final uncontrolled rest” in about 7 to 9 feet of water, the report states.

Lake was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma in Baltimore, where she was treated for minor injuries, according to the press release.

Sutcliffe and a passenger in his vehicle were not injured.

The press release states that the investigation revealed the Chrysler had slowed to about 4 mph when it was hit by the tractor-trailer. Based on a data download of the tractor-trailer’s engine control module and anti-lock braking system, investigators believe it was traveling between 47 and 51 mph just prior to the crash, officials said. Vehicle inspections indicated no mechanical defects were present at the time of the inspections following the crash, the release states.

Officials said Lovasz had emigrated from Hungary to Canada as part of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program. According to the report, Lovasz obtained his commercial driver’s license in April while employed by the program, and then began working for Bulk Carriers PEI. On July 17, he was “paired with an experienced Bulk Carrier driver” and they drove to Massachusetts, at which point the “experienced driver” left Lovasz with the tractor-trailer to drive to Virginia and then to Rhodesdale, which took him over the Bay Bridge, the report states.

The report also references a crash from April 13 in the same location involving two passenger vehicles, with one of the vehicles coming to rest on the barrier wall, according to the press release. There were no injuries or structural damage to the bridge from the April crash.

“Both the April and July crashes were a direct result of distracted driving. Every one of us has immense responsibility behind the wheel,” MDTA Police Chief Col. Michael Kundrat said in the release. “With two similar incidents over the last few months, we are taking a closer look at this area of the bridge to evaluate what can be done to enhance safety. We’re analyzing potential strategies including flashing Congestion Ahead signs, requiring headlight use during two-way traffic operations and additional rumble strips.”

The National Transportation Safety Board issued its preliminary report Aug. 19. The NTSB has MDTA’s full cooperation as it works to issue a final report, the MDTA release states. A timeframe for the completion of the final report has not yet been determined.

kfitzpatrick@somdnews.com