Truck's lift knocks out parts of bridge
MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Kimberly Gilbertson watched concrete explode as the truck in front of her struck the Moorhead bridge over Interstate 94 at Eighth Street South.
Seconds later, chunks of debris smashed three large holes through the windshield of her Honda Accord.
Sanitation truck driver Kevin Gillette didn't notice his chest pain as he ran back to make sure Gilbertson and her two children were OK.
In those few moments, the two strangers were united in a freak accident that occurred about noon Friday when the hydraulic lift on Gillette's truck was up and struck the bridge.
The crash backed up traffic and left crews working through the evening to repair the bridge.
Gillette, 42, who works for Ken's Sanitation & Recycling, was headed west on I-94 after dropping off a container used for construction materials at Minnesota State Community and Technical College.
Gilbertson, with daughter Elizabeth, 8, and son Joshua, 5, in the backseat, drove a few car lengths behind the truck on her way to North Dakota State University to pick up her 19-year-old daughter from class.
Gilbertson, 47, who lives east of Barnesville, Minn., didn't notice anything unusual about the truck until she saw it strike the bridge, sending concrete chunks and dust flying.
As her windshield shattered, Gilbertson hit the brakes and pulled over to the right.
The impact of the crash slammed Gillette into his steering wheel, which hurt his chest but may have saved him from worse injuries.
"Thank God it's got a big steering wheel or I would have been out of the windshield," the Moorhead man said.
Gillette is not certain if he forgot to lower the hoist or if there was a mechanical malfunction.
"I usually check it two or three times looking out the back window," he said.
Either way, Gillette was hard on himself Friday afternoon for causing the accident.
"It shouldn't have happened to me. I've been doing this 28 years of my life," he said.
Gillette's truck doesn't have an indicator that signals when the hydraulic lift is up like some newer models do, he said.
Gillette, Gilbertson and her two children were treated and released from MeritCare Hospital.
Gilbertson said she had some scrapes from being scuffed by debris. Her children were not hurt.
Gillette said his chest, side and back were sore and the doctor told him he'd be bruised for a while.
"I've never felt any pain like this in my life," he said.
But the most important thing to Gillette was that Gilbertson and her children were fine.
"If them pieces had been any bigger ... it could have been a lot worse," he said.
The crash forced westbound traffic to be diverted through Moorhead for most of the afternoon.
Northbound traffic on the bridge was reduced to one lane for most of the afternoon.
"This is the worst impact damage I've seen on a bridge," said Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Dan Vickmark.
Engineers from the Minnesota Department of Transportation supervised repair work Friday afternoon.
MnDOT district bridge engineer Seth Yliniemi said the damaged beam will be replaced in the future, but it will take time to fabricate a new one.
He said the bridge will be safe in the meantime, and the state's bridge office will determine how to proceed.
Yliniemi said he did not yet have a cost estimate for the damage and repairs.
An advisory sign that warned drivers to take alternative routes helped relieve congestion, he said.
Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said a driver told him that he had followed the sanitation truck onto the Interstate from 20th Street South in Moorhead, but was unable to alert the truck driver to the fact his lift was in the up position.
Janna Kohler, who lives in south Moorhead near the Interstate, said she was watching television when she heard a loud noise.
It sounded like a loud clang, or the sound a train makes when it is starting up, said Kohler, who added car accidents are common in that area.
She said she was surprised to learn someone struck the bridge.
"I drive that bridge all the time. So that will be interesting," she said.
Gilbertson said seeing the damage to her car after the crash was "unnerving," and she was grateful her kids were in the backseat.
"We're just thankful that God was watching over us, that we're all OK," she said.
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