By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
CHINOOK - Two tractor-trailers collided this morning near Chinook, collapsing a bridge over the Milk River and littering U.S. Highway 2 with debris.
No one was injured in the accident, which resulted in a section of the highway being closed until further notice.
The collision occurred on a bridge 5 miles west of Chinook about 6:45 a.m., Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Bosch said.
The crash occurred when a bulldozer being hauled on the trailer of the eastbound truck clipped a bridge pylon, spun clockwise, and smashed into a westbound grain truck, Bosch said. Then the blade of the bulldozer severed a support beam on the southwest corner of the bridge, causing the bridge to collapse, he said.
Both Michael Shroyer of Billings, who was driving the grain truck, and Dave Williams of Havre, who was pulling the bulldozer, were unhurt. They were at the scene talking to investigators several hours after the crash.
"I felt it and I knew it hit," Williams said. "It happened pretty fast."
Shroyer, 46, declined to comment.
The grain truck Shroyer was driving traveled for several hundred feet after the collision, littering the highway with scraps of metal and broken glass. The grain truck, which was not loaded, was parked on the north side of the highway this morning. The rear of the grain container had been shredded open by the bulldozer during the collision, tearing a hole several yards long.
The trailer Williams had been pulling broke loose during the crash, and was still on the bridge several hours after the accident. The trailer straddled both lanes and each end had smashed into pylons on each side of the bridge. The bulldozer hung precariously over the south side of the Milk River.
The west side of the bridge had collapsed, and was angled against an embankment. Williams said the bridge collapsed almost immediately following the collision.
"It went down right away," he said.
A man driving toward the accident scene several minutes after it happened called 911. Daryl McAlpine said he was driving east when he saw one of the trucks flash its brights at him. It was not until he got within an eighth of a mile of the scene that he saw the wreckage, he said.
After calling for help, he went to check on the drivers of the trucks, McAlpine added.
"They were both shook up, that's for sure," he said.
The Montana Department of Transportation and the Highway Patrol closed down U.S. Highway 2 between Chinook and Logie Road.
A detour was set up to divert traffic around the accident scene. Those needing to travel between Havre and Chinook are being routed onto Logie and Clear Creek roads to Dike Road, which provides access to Chinook, said Cpl. Jim Kinsey of MDT's Roving Motor Carrier Service. The detour will result in several miles of additional travel, he said, adding that the speed limit for the detour has tentatively been set at 35 mph.
It is not clear how long the bridge will be out of commission. A team of MDT bridge specialists from Great Falls and Helena were called to come evaluate the bridge, Kinsey said. Until an evaluation has been completed, emergency crews will not remove the trailer or the bulldozer from the bridge, he said.
The accident scene was a bustle of activity this morning. Blaine County sheriff's deputies and MDT workers were directing traffic at the detour sites, while Highway Patrol officer Jeff Martin was taking photographs of the trucks and interviewing Williams and Shroyer. Kinsey was coordinating a mechanical evaluation of Williams' truck and Chinook volunteer firefighters were helping out where they could.
The firefighters were called shortly after the accident, said volunteer firefighter Willie Madril.
"I thought 'What a mess,'" he said.