Driver dies after tractor-trailer goes over the side of the CBBT

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The driver of a tractor-trailer that went over the side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT) Thursday afternoon died after being rescued. CBBT spokesman Tom Anderson confirmed the driver died when he was on the way to the hospital.

Authorities identified the driver as 47-year-old Joseph Chen, of Greenville, North Carolina. Chen was hauling a load of seafood for Evans Transports, which is based out of Washington, North Carolina.

The Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Chen’s death to be accidental. The cause was drowning and hypothermia.

A relative of Chen’s in Greenville says Chen is a father and husband, WAVY affiliate WITN reports, as well as the founder and president of Turn-N-Burn Motorcycle Club.

PHOTOS: Tractor-trailer over the side of the CBBT

The tractor-trailer went into the water on the southbound side of the CBBT at mile marker 15 around 12:30 p.m. Navy spokesman Cmdr. Dave Hecht said a crew with HSC 2 out of Norfolk was in the area training when police called for help. That crew responded in an MH-60 Sierra and pulled the driver out of the water. WAVY’s Erin Kelly tweeted that officials said the driver was standing on top of the vehicle before he was hoisted into the helicopter.

Video of the scene from Chopper 10 shows a large section of damaged guardrail on the side of the bridge.

CBBT officials tweeted Thursday afternoon that the bridge was closed on both sides due to an incident. Both sides of the bridge-tunnel were reopened before 2 p.m.

Bridge officials issued Level 2 wind restrictions Thursday, with winds exceeding 47 mph. There was a Level 1 restriction at the time of the accident.

Under a Level 2 restriction, tractor-trailers must be hauling a gross payload of 30,000 pounds, in addition to the weight of the rig.

Charles Lattimore, of Chesapeake, said he and about 30 other truck drivers on the Eastern Shore were cleared to cross before he learned of the crash on the radio. He was headed to Norfolk, but pulled over about a mile north of the bridge-tunnel, worried his own truck would be too light.

“When I knew he had went over, I knew I wasn’t heavy enough, so I didn’t take the chance,” Lattimore said.

He said he crosses the bridge-tunnel about twice a week.

“On a windy day, you can feel it, and you’ll be pushing your trailer and your tractor to the left or the right, whichever way the wind is blowing. You can actually feel it; it’s a hurting feeling and you know of course I said a prayer for him and that was before I heard that he died. I was hoping that he was going to make it.”

Super Doppler 10 Meteorologist Ashley Baylor says the water temperature was 45 degrees with a wave height between five and seven feet at the time of the accident.

The Virginia Trucking Association issued this statement:

We take safety very seriously. It is certainly a tragedy any time we lose someone. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family, friends, and fellow employees of the victim.”

– Dale Bennett, President & CEO, Virginia Trucking Association

WAVY News has covered previous incidents of tractor-trailers going overboard while traveling on the CBBT. The most recent accident was in January of 2016. That driver was rescued and survived.

In May 2014, a tractor-trailer went into the water after it hit a maintenance truck on the bridge; that driver died.

Document: 53rd annual CBBT maintenance report

Stay with WAVY.com for updates to this developing news.