News and Tribune

Community News Network

July 23, 2013

Woman who survived car's plunge from bridge describes swim to safety

The car went off the side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and into the water. It began to fill up, and the 22-year-old driver believed she was drowning.

But Morgan Lake, of Dunkirk, Md., said she made the decision not to die in the water and told herself "you can do this."

And she climbed out of the car, through a shattered window, and swam to safety, becoming the central figure in a story of survival that has attracted vast attention.

It began shortly after she drove onto the bridge Friday night, on her way to Philadelphia to visit friends and relatives. The terror took hold when she looked in the rearview mirror and saw a tractor-trailer "coming full speed." Her car was struck, police said.

According to authorities, the car hit the barrier at the side of the bridge. That pushed her car back onto the roadway, but then it was bumped by the tractor-trailer a second time. That propelled it upward 3½ feet to the top of the concrete Jersey wall.

The car straddled the wall for a time, according to police and to Lake.

But then, she said, it tipped over, and she was falling for what "felt like eternity."

It seemed almost to be happening in slow motion, Lake said. The drop was estimated to have been 40 feet or more. Then the car hit the water, its windshield and the driver's side window shattered.

The car filled with water, Lake said, and she "felt I was going to die." She said she actually "started to drown."

But then, she said in a telephone interview late Sunday, "I got myself together," and refused to drown.

She told herself that she could save her own life, and she did.

"I went from panic to calm," she said. She proceeded in steps, first unbuckling her seat belt, then grabbing the window and getting out of the car.

She said it seemed to take a long time to reach the surface. She gasped for air as many as five times. She looked around and began to swim.

Her mother, Melani Lake, said she knew her daughter was an incredible athlete. But "we didn't know she could swim like that."

She credited her daughter's "sheer will to survive."

For her part, the daughter, a student at the College of Southern Maryland, described herself as "blessed to be alive."

She said she learned that "there's a superman and a superwoman in everyone." The important thing, she said, is "just not to give up."

When the car went into the water, it was not far from the bridge, which is supported at that point by a series of pillars. Soon she reached rocks that surround the base of one of the bridge supports.

Division chief Keith Swindle of the Anne Arundel County (Md.) Fire Department said a boater in the area went to her aid and stayed there until the arrival of the county's fire boat and a boat from the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

After initial treatment, Lake was placed on a police boat and then flown by helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. She was released Saturday from the hospital.

The police officer said it was first believed that she had suffered fractures, but he said her injuries turned out to be only bumps and bruises.

Lake said she was still experiencing considerable pain Sunday night. But "blessed to be alive," she said.

In their account of the crash, released Sunday, Transportation Authority Police said Lake was driving alone on the eastbound span of the bridge about 8:30 p.m. Friday when her car and another one were struck by a tractor-trailer.

The other vehicle, a Mazda, remained on the bridge and neither occupant was injured.

The driver of the truck, Gabor Lovasz of Canada, was not injured, police said.

No charges have been filed, but an investigation is ongoing, a spokesman for the Transportation Authority Police said.

Authorities said the crash occurred less than a quarter-mile from shore and shut down the east-bound span of the bridge for about two hours.

The car was removed from the water Saturday.

The 4.3-mile arched, dual-span Bay Bridge, which rises 186 feet above the bay at its highest point, has long terrified some motorists. Crossed by more than 25 million vehicles annually, it connects Washington's urban centers and suburbs with Ocean City and other coastal communities - and can provide a white-knuckle driving experience, even in the best of conditions.

"The Bay Bridge has everything to fear, not just height," the late psychotherapist Jerilyn Ross once told The Washington Post. "Water, traffic, claustrophobia - anyone who's prone to suffer from a phobia has a problem with the bridge. It's the feeling of being so close to death."

For years, police offered to drive cars over the bridge for phobics; more recently, entrepreneurs have done the same. In 2010, Travel + Leisure magazine named it one of "the world's scariest bridges."

But accidents in which cars go flying off the bridge into the water are extremely rare.

"It is very uncommon for this to happen," said 1st Sgt. Jonathan Green, a Maryland Transportation Authority Police spokesman.

The last time before Friday, he said, was 2008, when a three-vehicle accident sent a chicken-filled 18-wheeler through a concrete wall and into the water, killing the driver, John Short of Willards, Md.

Another motorist died in an accident in 2011, after his car broke down on the bridge. He stepped out of the vehicle, which was subsequently struck by a truck. The force of the crash sent Harry Blauvelt, a retired sportswriter, into the water.

Washington Post staff writers Julie Tate and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Community News Network
  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

  • linda-ronstadt.jpg Obama had crush on First Lady of Rock

    Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 29, 2014

  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • Fast food comes to standstill in China

    The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country

    July 28, 2014

  • wd saturday tobias .jpg Stranger’s generosity stuns Ohio veteran

    Vietnam War veteran David A. Tobias was overwhelmed recently when a fellow customer at an OfficeMax store near Ashtabula, Ohio paid for a computer he was purchasing.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 1.33.11 PM.png VIDEO: High-dive accident caught on tape

    A woman at a water park in Idaho leaped off a 22-foot high dive platform, then tried to pull herself back up with frightening results. Fortunately, she escaped with only a cut to her finger.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • CATS-DOGS281.jpg Where cats are more popular than dogs in the U.S.-and all over the world

    We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

LOCAL MAGAZINES
Easter 2014 photos


Click on any photo to purchase it.

SPECIAL CONTENT
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
AP Video
Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast New Sanctions on Key Sectors of Russian Economy Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue
2013 Photos of the year


Take a look at our most memorable photos from 2013.