One of last people to cross Baltimore bridge describes harrowing drive

A Maryland man said he considers himself “lucky” while reflecting on being one of the last drivers to go across the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore moments before it was struck by a cargo ship and sent crumbling into the Patapsco River.

Larry DeSantis was making his daily commute last Tuesday to his second job at Herman’s Bakery in the Baltimore area when he crossed the bridge shortly before 1:30 a.m. He told The Baltimore Banner he remembered slowing down to look out for highway workers doing construction on the bridge and now realizes he witnessed some of the workers’ final moments before they presumably died in the collapse.

He did not notice a ship coming toward the bridge or the black smoke coming out of it and later told CNN the only indication of something being wrong was the lack of vehicles on the roadway, even at that time of day.

“I really didn’t even see the ship at all. I just focused on what was right in front of me,” he told CNN. “There was one other vehicle behind me. It was a tractor, but he didn’t have a trailer because I actually got in front of him right as we started to go over the bridge.”

DeSantis was off the bridge by around 1:27 a.m., and at 1:29 a.m., a 984-foot cargo ship, named the Dali, crashed into bridge, causing it to collapse. Officials said the Dali was attempting to leave Baltimore Harbor on its way to Sri Lanka when it lost power.

The ship was able to issue a last-minute mayday call to allow police to stop traffic moments before the crash, but the eight individuals working on the bridge were not able to get off and fell into the water. Two of the workers were rescued and survived, and divers found two bodies in a submerged truck. The four others are presumed dead.

“I mean, they were doing their job, and they lost their lives. It’s hard; I drove right by them; I saw all of them, just a minute before they probably died,” he said.

DeSantis told The Baltimore Banner, which broke the story, he did not hear the noise from the crash because he had a radio channel playing.

“I didn’t even know anything was going on, but it was just really eerie when I got off of the bridge and there was nothing [behind me],” DeSantis said. “Because with Amazon there, I’ll see 20 Amazon trucks every morning. I don’t care what day of the week it is. Nothing. There was absolutely nothing.”

Minutes later, he received a call from a co-worker to make sure he was OK and later from a Maryland Transportation Authority Police detective.

“I think about it; I might not be here now if I had been just a little bit later,” he said. “Just a minute would’ve changed everything. It’s scary, you know.”

DeSantis said he has gone to work each day since the collapse, though his commute now takes closer to an hour than 20 minutes, like before.

“I’ve been very tired this week because of the amount of hours I’ve been working, but it makes you think a lot, it really does,” he told CNN. “I just can’t believe it happened. I consider myself very lucky.”

A lifelong resident of the Baltimore area, DeSantis said it is “hard to believe” the landmark bridge is gone and only remembers one other time in his life when the skyline did not have the bridge — when it was being built.

The bridge collapse has closed the Port of Baltimore, a major shipping hub along the East Coast that supports more than 15,000 direct jobs and more than 139,000 indirect jobs, Axios reported last week.

The U.S. Coast Guard announced Monday it is expected to open an auxiliary channel for commercially essential vessels near the site of the wreckage.

“This will mark an important first step along the road to reopening the port of Baltimore,” Coast Guard Capt. David O’Connell, the federal on-scene coordinator for the joint command response, said in a statement. “By opening this alternate route, we will support the flow of marine traffic into Baltimore.”

Crews began removing the first piece of wreckage from the water over the weekend, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said.

Moore, along with other state and federal officials said the port’s closure will not only impact Maryland’s local economy but will also have ripple effects on a national level. No definitive timeline has been determined for when the port could reopen as the salvage and rebuilding process is expected to be extensive.

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