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A CLOSE CALL ON 301 BRIDGE
Tractor-trailer nearly blown off the U.S. 301 bridge over the Potomac River near King George County.

 High winds tipped this tractor-trailer and nearly blew it off the U.S. 301 bridge from Maryland to King George.
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Date published: 7/15/2011

BY SCOTT SHENK

A tractor-trailer that was nearly blown off the Harry Nice Memorial Bridge got caught in a thunderstorm with wind gusts of almost 60 mph.

About the time the UPS rig was toppled Wednesday, nearby weather observation stations reported that wind gusts on the Potomac River had topped out at 58 mph, said Stephen Konarik, meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The big rig was traveling south on the two-lane U.S. 301 bridge at 4:44 p.m. and had reached the midpoint (mile marker 1.2) when the wind blew it into the northbound lanes, according to Sgt. Kirk Perez, spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

The tractor-trailer hit the concrete barrier on the northbound shoulder and teetered over the edge of the bridge. The highest point of the bridge stands 135 feet above the Potomac, Perez said.

"By the grace of God," the tractor-trailer didn't fall over, said Perez, who added that he can't recall a similar incident happening on the bridge. He also said he didn't know if the trailer was carrying a load.

The driver suffered minor injuries and was treated at the scene, Perez said.

Traffic was backed up 2 miles as both lanes on the bridge were shut down, he said. As the many commuters who use the bridge from King George County to Maryland's Charles County waited, the tractor-trailer was righted and towed away about 6:45 p.m.

Maryland Transportation Authority workers inspected the bridge where the accident happened and there was "no apparent damage," Perez said.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
Email: sshenk@freelancestar.com