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18-wheeler that flew off East Freeway bridge will stay in river for now

Search for truck driver continues

HIGHLANDS, Texas – An early morning crash sent an 18-wheeler flying off a bridge in east Harris County.

Deputies said the crash happened around 3:45 a.m. Thursday on the East Freeway at the San Jacinto River.

According to authorities, a deputy traveling westbound on the East Freeway came across a Chevrolet, with no lights on, that was facing oncoming traffic.

The deputy stopped to investigate and found two men, ages 18 and 23, who told the deputy they had been traveling westbound when there was a minor crash with another 18-wheeler, authorities said.

Deputies said the crash caused the 18-year-old driver of the Chevrolet to lose control of the vehicle and the car spun out, coming to a stop facing oncoming traffic.

The 18-wheeler involved in the initial crash left the scene, leaving the Chevrolet disabled in a moving lane of traffic with no lights on, deputies said.

As the deputy was talking with the two men, a second 18-wheeler hit the Chevrolet, causing the truck driver to lose control, crash through a guardrail and plunge 20 to 30 feet into the river below, authorities said.

Authorities said the cab of the truck was fully submerged and the trailer was partially submerged.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the cab jackknifed and the front of it was completely submerged in sand and silt and it was leaning toward the driver's side. 

A diver was able to break the glass on the passenger side and get into the cabin to check for the driver, but did not find a body, Gonzalez said.

Based on the information they have and because the diver was unable to locate a body, Gonzalez said authorities believe the driver is likely in the sleeper portion of the cabin.

Due to the murky conditions and the fact that the truck landed in a Superfund site, the diver was unable to keep looking for the driver, Gonzalez said. 

A Superfund is a hazardous waste site. For many years, the area around I-10 and the San Jacinto River was a toxic area filled with dangerous contamination. It was an old dumping site for toxic sludge produced by an old paper mill.

In any other location, the divers may have been able to take off some their protective gear to fit in tight spaces, but that was not possible in this particular location.

Crews were working to figure out the safest way to remove the truck from the water without disturbing any chemical pockets or putting any crew members and investigators in danger, but authorities decided it will have to stay in the water overnight until a private company can go out Friday to remove it.

Deputies said they have no indication there was a second person in the cab, but Gonzalez said authorities will only be able to confirm that once the cab is out of the water.

The men in the Chevrolet were not impaired and are cooperating with authorities. The deputy who witnessed the crash was not hurt. 

Rich Logistics, the company that's name was on the 18-wheeler, released a statement on the accident:

Rich Logistics is deeply saddened by the tragic death of its driver. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. This matter is currently being investigated and we are unable to provide any further information at this time.

All inbound lanes in the area were shut down, but authorities have since reopened the lanes.