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TriMet girder, bound for Southeast, crushes car on Marquam Bridge

by: GREG MUHR, PF&R - Firefighters made sure the car fire was completely extinguished. That bit of metal protruding from the beam at lower right is about all thats left of the crushed car. The Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project came up one girder short of their expected half-dozen delivery on April 23, when the missing beam ended up on its side on its overturned truck, atop a car, on the Marquam Bridge.

The 168-foot-long, 37.5 ton, pre-stressed steel rebar-reinforced concrete girder toppled the “double driver” northbound rig carrying it, at about 3 pm. The crash occurred on Marquam’s top deck, high above OMSI, in the process crushing a Volkswagen Tiguan next to it in the left lane.

Both the big rig and the smashed car then started smoldering.

The driver of the rear steering unit – it’s like the tiller driver on a fire truck – was 28-year-old Mark Cole.

Witnesses said Cole hopped over the tumbled beam, reached in through the broken windshield of the crushed car, laboriously unfastened the seatbelt of 23-year-old Dana Kay Buice, freed her arm, and then pulled her out of her car, moments before fire erupted in the vehicle. She was rushed to a hospital but was expected to recover; nothing much was left of her car, but she suffered only relatively minor injuries.

Heavy traffic had slowed Portland Fire & Rescue rigs dispatched to scene, but other fire engines set up on the ground below the bridge, and started pumping water up the dry standpipes, making it available to crews when they arrived.

“Cole, and driver 67-year-old James Pennington, cooperated with the investigation,” Portland Police Public Information Officer Sgt. Pete Simpson told THE BEE.

It wasn’t high-speed maneuvering or inebriation that caused the wreck, Police Traffic Division investigators determined – the transporter was traveling only about 10 mph when the accident occurred.

Instead, the wreck that blocked the freeway for more than 12 hours was actually caused by the truck’s slow speed – which was the result of the heavy afternoon traffic – coupled with the banked freeway angle. It just fell over. The fallen girder, damaged in the mishap, was laboriously cut into four pieces overnight and trucked away. The freeway reopened just in time for the morning commute the following day.