9 Hours Later, All Lanes Reopened; Drivers Tell Of Inching Their Way To Nowhere

FORT LEE, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Drivers were making it over the George Washington Bridge with ease Thursday night, but that certainly wasn’t the case earlier in the day.

Beginning in the wee hours Thursday, a deadly crash involving two tractor-trailers ended up shutting down part of the bridge for 10 hours. Officials cautioned drivers to expect residual delays.

“My GPS said 10-minute drive. It took me about an hour and 15 minutes,” one driver told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider.

The crash happened shortly after 2 a.m., authorities said.

Police told Schneider the driver in the rear truck — 59-year-old Joao Daponta, of North Plainfield, N.J. — died when his vehicle became wedged under the other truck’s trailer. The truck, which was hauling refrigerators, is registered to Hermann Leasing in New Brunswick, N.J., said GWB Commanding Officer Ron Shindel.

The driver in the lead truck was emotionally shaken and was taken to a hospital for evaluation of minor injuries, Shindel said. That truck was carrying poultry and was registered to a North Carolina company, police told CBS 2’s Sonia Rincon.

Officials reopened one eastbound upper lane around 6 a.m., but the remaining lanes were closed for hours until officials had removed the trucks around 11:45 a.m.

The cleanup was delayed because special equipment was needed to separate the trucks, Shindel said.

“These were fully loaded, 53-foot trailers on tractors — not easy vehicles to move and the nature of the accident also was the fact that the second tractor-trailer went under the first tractor-trailer and they became lodged together,” he said.

“It took nine hours because this was an accident investigation with a fatality, which is not just your standard accident investigation. We took that time to make sure that we had the scene catalogued properly — photographs, measurements,” Shindel added.

The bridge’s lower lanes and westbound lanes remained open, but drivers faced major delays around the Fort Lee toll plaza.

A ripple effect of delays followed, with motorists inching along for miles around as they sought alternate routes into and out of the city.

“I’m trying to avoid it,” driver Paul Tarabay told CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell. “It’s taking them too much time to clear up because it’s probably a big accident.”

It was especially hard for truck drivers. They have to take the upper level.

“I mean there is nothing you can do, traffic is going nowhere, and I need to cross. If get on a different route, there’s no difference,” truck driver Luis Carranza told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.

“When I saw the massive line, that’s when I didn’t go that way,” another driver said.

The accident came just days before the Port Authority is set to close the George Washington Bridge’s three of the four upper level lanes for 12 weeks during overnight hours for construction, beginning this coming Monday.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation late Thursday.

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