Mt. Vernon Register-News

Community News Network

July 23, 2013

Woman who survived car's plunge from bridge describes swim to safety

The car went off the side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and into the water. It began to fill up, and the 22-year-old driver believed she was drowning.

But Morgan Lake, of Dunkirk, Md., said she made the decision not to die in the water and told herself "you can do this."

And she climbed out of the car, through a shattered window, and swam to safety, becoming the central figure in a story of survival that has attracted vast attention.

It began shortly after she drove onto the bridge Friday night, on her way to Philadelphia to visit friends and relatives. The terror took hold when she looked in the rearview mirror and saw a tractor-trailer "coming full speed." Her car was struck, police said.

According to authorities, the car hit the barrier at the side of the bridge. That pushed her car back onto the roadway, but then it was bumped by the tractor-trailer a second time. That propelled it upward 3½ feet to the top of the concrete Jersey wall.

The car straddled the wall for a time, according to police and to Lake.

But then, she said, it tipped over, and she was falling for what "felt like eternity."

It seemed almost to be happening in slow motion, Lake said. The drop was estimated to have been 40 feet or more. Then the car hit the water, its windshield and the driver's side window shattered.

The car filled with water, Lake said, and she "felt I was going to die." She said she actually "started to drown."

But then, she said in a telephone interview late Sunday, "I got myself together," and refused to drown.

She told herself that she could save her own life, and she did.

"I went from panic to calm," she said. She proceeded in steps, first unbuckling her seat belt, then grabbing the window and getting out of the car.

She said it seemed to take a long time to reach the surface. She gasped for air as many as five times. She looked around and began to swim.

Her mother, Melani Lake, said she knew her daughter was an incredible athlete. But "we didn't know she could swim like that."

She credited her daughter's "sheer will to survive."

For her part, the daughter, a student at the College of Southern Maryland, described herself as "blessed to be alive."

She said she learned that "there's a superman and a superwoman in everyone." The important thing, she said, is "just not to give up."

When the car went into the water, it was not far from the bridge, which is supported at that point by a series of pillars. Soon she reached rocks that surround the base of one of the bridge supports.

Division chief Keith Swindle of the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Fire Department said a boater in the area went to her aid and stayed there until the arrival of the county's fire boat and a boat from the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

After initial treatment, Lake was placed on a police boat and then flown by helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. She was released Saturday from the hospital.

The police officer said it was first believed that she had suffered fractures, but he said her injuries turned out to be only bumps and bruises.

Lake said she was still experiencing considerable pain Sunday night. But "blessed to be alive," she said.

In their account of the crash, released Sunday, Transportation Authority Police said Lake was driving alone on the eastbound span of the bridge about 8:30 p.m. Friday when her car and another one were struck by a tractor-trailer.

The other vehicle, a Mazda, remained on the bridge and neither occupant was injured.

The driver of the truck, Gabor Lovasz of Canada, was not injured, police said.

No charges have been filed, but an investigation is ongoing, a spokesman for the Transportation Authority Police said.

Authorities said the crash occurred less than a quarter-mile from shore and shut down the east-bound span of the bridge for about two hours.

The car was removed from the water Saturday.

The 4.3-mile arched, dual-span Bay Bridge, which rises 186 feet above the bay at its highest point, has long terrified some motorists. Crossed by more than 25 million vehicles annually, it connects Washington's urban centers and suburbs with Ocean City and other coastal communities - and can provide a white-knuckle driving experience, even in the best of conditions.

"The Bay Bridge has everything to fear, not just height," the late psychotherapist Jerilyn Ross once told The Washington Post. "Water, traffic, claustrophobia - anyone who's prone to suffer from a phobia has a problem with the bridge. It's the feeling of being so close to death."

For years, police offered to drive cars over the bridge for phobics; more recently, entrepreneurs have done the same. In 2010, Travel + Leisure magazine named it one of "the world's scariest bridges."

But accidents in which cars go flying off the bridge into the water are extremely rare.

"It is very uncommon for this to happen," said 1st Sgt. Jonathan Green, a Maryland Transportation Authority Police spokesman.

The last time before Friday, he said, was 2008, when a three-vehicle accident sent a chicken-filled 18-wheeler through a concrete wall and into the water, killing the driver, John Short of Willards, Md.

Another motorist died in an accident in 2011, after his car broke down on the bridge. He stepped out of the vehicle, which was subsequently struck by a truck. The force of the crash sent Harry Blauvelt, a retired sportswriter, into the water.

Washington Post staff writers Julie Tate and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Arizona's prolonged lethal injection is fourth in U.S. this year

    Arizona's execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood marked the fourth time this year that a state failed to dispatch a convict efficiently, according to the Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal group.3

    July 24, 2014

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 24, 2014

  • 072214 Diamond Llama 1.jpg Llama on the loose corralled in Missouri town

    A llama on the lam cruised Main Street Tuesday before it mistook a resident’s fenced backyard for a place to grab a meal and freshen up.

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 2.00.42 PM.png VIDEO: Train collides with semi truck carrying lighter fluid

    A truck driver from Washington is fortunate to be alive after driving his semi onto a set of tracks near Somerset, Ky., and being struck by a locomotive, which ignited his load of charcoal lighter fluid.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malaysians wonder 'Why us?' after second loss of airline jet

    It was all too familiar. Grieving families rushing to airport. The flashing television graphics of a plane's last radar appearance. The uncomfortable officials before a heavy thicket of microphones.
    For many Malaysians, the disappearance of Flight 370 in March has been a long trauma from which the nation has not yet recovered.

    July 18, 2014

  • The terrible history of passenger planes getting shot out of the sky

    What is more clear is that, if initial reports are true, this would be the deadliest incident of a civilian passenger plane being shot down in modern memory. In some instances, the causes of the disaster are still shrouded in mystery. Here are some of the worst events.

    July 17, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 2.12.33 PM.png Gunshots narrowly miss TV reporter

    A reporter for a West Virginia television station narrowly escaped injury or worse Monday while covering a fatal weekend shooting in Beckley.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • 25 hidden secrets in "Weird Al's" "Word Crimes" video

    Yankovic's 14th album was released this week, and it warms my heart containers that he's kept up his geeky brand of humor for so long. While he has written so many incredible songs, none have spoken to my love of proper grammar.
    Until "Word Crimes."

    July 16, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks