A Nassau Community College student, headed home after a final exam, shot video of an wayward tractor trailer crashing into a bridge overpass Wednesday on the Meadowbrook State Parkway -- a crash that destroyed the truck.
Nabil Azad, 24, of Woodmere, said he was surprised to see the truck on the road, knowing that in New York tractor trailers are not allowed on parkways, and so began video-recording as he trailed the big rig in his 2010 Volvo. The video sequence, little more than a minute long, shows the southbound tractor trailer clear one overpass, then a second, before slamming into a third -- with devastating consequences. Instantly, the rooftop of the truck's trailer explodes in a burst of metal and insulating material, which scatters across the road.
Moments later, Azad pulled beside the disabled truck to find the driver wandering alongside, stunned.
"I was like, 'Holy [expletive]," Azad said Thursday, recounting his reaction to seeing the truck slam into the overpass.
"I thought he would have hit the first [bridge], then the second one. When he got under both of those, I thought maybe he could do this. Then," Azad said, "he hit the third one."
Ironically, the crash occurred the same day Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced construction is nearing completion of a project that will test infrared over-height vehicle detection systems at three different entrances to the Northern State Parkway. In a statement released Wednesday, the governor said the systems, developed by the New York State Department of Transportation, are designed "to prevent commercial trucks from entering the parkway and striking low bridges." Parkways in New York were built in the 1930s and '40s and were designed for cars alone -- with bridge clearances as low as seven feet.
A sign in the video shot by Azad lists the bridge clearance at the first overpass cleared by the truck as being 10-foot-4, but that was for the height in the exit lane -- one lane over from the right-hand travel lane being used by the truck. The bridge struck by the truck on the Meadowbrook was 10-foot-5.
Most states have limited tractor trailer heights to 13 1/2 feet.
The detection systems are being expanded to the Southern State Parkway, as well as parkways in New York City and Westchester, Cuomo said. They are part of a $5-million pilot program instituted by the governor and the state legislature. The state DOT estimates there are at least five such parkway "incursions" by trucks each week on Long Island.
A current radio campaign airing in the metro area also warns truck drivers of parkway height hazards and restrictions, advising them that normal vehicle GPS units often don't advise truckers of height dangers -- that truck-specific units are needed in New York.
State Police said they believed the truck involved in Wednesday's accident got on the Meadowbrook at the Stewart Avenue entrance in Garden City, headed toward Freeport.
The crash occurred between Exit M6, Hempstead Turnpike, and M5, the Southern State Parkway, in Uniondale.
It closed two lanes of the parkway for several hours.
State Police said the truck was operated by Excell Smith of North Carolina. Azad said the driver told him he didn't know trucks were not allowed on the parkways here.
"He was just walking back and forth, stunned," Azad said of the driver in the aftermath of the crash. "You could tell he was distraught . . . He was just mumbling stuff."
Azad said he did not file a witness statement with police and had not given the video to investigators, either, but planned to.
The first three infrared systems announced by Cuomo are scheduled to be rolled out around Memorial Day on the Northern State Parkway, Route 106 / 107 and the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway.
The sensors will trigger new electronic signs warning truck drivers to pull over and contact State Police for assistance.