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Originally published June 5, 2013 at 9:01 PM | Page modified June 6, 2013 at 9:06 PM

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Driver of pilot car in bridge crash defends herself

The driver of the pilot car leading the truck that triggered the I-5 Skagit River bridge collapse defended her job performance in a statement Wednesday, saying she cooperated with investigators and was “horrified” by the accident.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The driver of the pilot car leading the truck that triggered the Interstate 5 Skagit River bridge collapse defended her job performance Wednesday, saying she cooperated with investigators and was “horrified” by the accident.

In a statement released through a public-relations firm, the driver, Tammy DeTray, said she took her responsibilities “very seriously.”

At the time of the May 23 accident, DeTray said she was driving with an indicator pole set above the clearance height for the truck “and in compliance with regulations for a pilot car.”

She said she was talking on a cellphone with her husband about a work-related matter, using a hands-free device “in complete compliance with the law.”

At no time did the indicator pole touch the bridge, DeTray said in the statement — her first public comments since the accident. If the pole had hit the bridge, DeTray said, she would have radioed a warning to the truck driver.

DeTray’s statement did not say which lane the pilot car was in when it crossed the bridge in the southbound direction. A spokesman at the public-relations firm that issued her statement said he did not know.

Because of the arc of the bridge’s crossbeams, the clearance in the left lane was two feet higher than in the right lane, where the overheight-load hauling truck was traveling when it crossed the bridge.

The truck’s load hit several crossbeams, causing the northernmost span of the bridge to quickly collapse, sending two cars plunging into the Skagit River. No one died in the accident, but it severed a major transportation route between Seattle and Canada, and prompted renewed political debate about the nation’s aging infrastructure.

Work on a temporary span to replace the bridge is under way and expected to be completed this month. For now, drivers are being rerouted to other river crossings.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also issued a new statement Wednesday, saying it had interviewed DeTray on Monday in Seattle and found her “very cooperative.”

The NTSB, the federal agency charged with probing transportation accidents, said DeTray’s account of her activities in the 72 hours before the accident “did not reveal anything unusual or of significant interest to investigators.”

Investigators examined DeTray’s pilot vehicle for the first time Monday, measuring the fiberglass pole mounted on the front of the pickup.

The NTSB said it was trying to track down the driver of a second tractor-trailer combination that also was on the bridge, and reportedly passing the other truck, at the time of the accident.

All of the bridge structure parts of interest to investigators have been removed from the scene. While additional interviews may take place, the NTSB said, it had “concluded its work at the bridge site.”

Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom contributed to this report, which also includes material from

The Seattle Times archives.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @Jim_Brunner

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