SEATTLE — David and Irene Ruiz were just a whisker from their car tumbling backwards into the Skagit River when the Interstate 5 bridge near Mount Vernon, Wash., collapsed last week.
The couple from Oak Harbor, Wash., said Thursday they were driving right next to a tractor-trailer when the truck hit an overhead girder on the bridge May 23, causing part of the span to collapse and sending three vehicles plunging into the cold water below.
“Boom! I hear this sound up on the top,” David Ruiz said. “The back of the trailer just reared its tires up.
“All I could see was the bridge falling right behind my bumper,” he said.
The couple’s BMW sedan was dangling over the edge.
Ruiz said he slammed on the gas pedal, the wheels caught — and they were safe.
“If we had fallen into the river,” he said, “we’d have gone backwards, and upside down. It was very, very close to being a big disaster for Irene and I.”
Once they stopped on the other side of the bridge collapse, Irene said she checked on the driver behind the wheel of the “pilot truck,” which was leading the tractor-trailer.
It’s the responsibility of the pilot truck to alert the trucker if there’s not enough clearance to cross a bridge.
“She had her hands to her face,” Irene said. “She was very upset. I said, are you OK? She said, ‘They’re going to kill me. It’s my fault, I should have told him to get to the center.’”
Then David Ruiz said he heard the truck driver hauling the oversize load. “He says, ‘Did I cause that or did the bridge fall down after I hit it?’ I said, no, you hit the bridge.”
Police arrived. David was the first person to inform them the truck hit the bridge, bringing it down.
Meanwhile, vehicles and people could be seen among the wreckage of the bridge down in the river. It would later be learned that three people went down with their vehicles into the river; none suffered serious injuries. But that was not known at the time.
“I survived something horrible,” David said.
The couple bought some lottery tickets in the days that followed. They didn’t hit the jackpot, but said they still feel lucky.