WHITE PLAINS -- A wrong-way driver on the Tappan Zee Bridge slammed into an oncoming vehicle, killing a passenger and sparking a five-car pileup that closed the northbound lanes of the state Thruway for hours, State Police said Wednesday.
Idled motorists on the bridge got out of their cars and watched Tuesday night as workers treated the injured and police investigated the scene under floodlights.
Several people, including the wrong-way driver, Michael Schechel, 69, were injured and taken to hospitals, police said. There were no immediate arrests.
Police said Wednesday that they were investigating whether drugs or alcohol played a part in Schechel getting into the wrong lanes, but had no evidence yet to support that.
"That's among the many things we're looking into," said spokesman Sgt. John Antonelli. He said Schechel's wife had told police he had an anxiety attack at some point before the crash, "But it's unknown if that's a factor."
On Tuesday, State Police said, they received a report of a driver going south in the northbound lanes of the bridge at 8:51 p.m., just seconds before they heard about the crash.
They said Schechel, of Thiells in Rockland County, got on the highway using the Exit 10 off-ramp in South Nyack, the closest exit to the bridge.
Christian Evans of South Nyack said he was getting off the Thruway there Tuesday night when he saw a Ford Explorer coming at him on the ramp.
"It was like a game of chicken," he said. "If I didn't move they were coming . . . I laid on my horn, I moved over, let them pass."
Police said once on the bridge, Schechel crashed his SUV head-on into a Nissan in which Hannah Ayeh-Brachie, 56, of Hillcrest, was a passenger. The Nissan rolled over several times and landed on its roof in the middle lane, police said.
Ayeh-Brachie was pronounced dead at the scene, they said.
Antonelli said Schechel suffered a head injury and police would talk to him after he was treated.
A third car hit the Nissan and two other vehicles crashed into the pileup, police said.
Two lanes on the southbound side of the bridge were also closed at times during the investigation but the bridge was completely open for Wednesday's morning rush.