The driver of a garbage truck that slammed into a safety vehicle at the rear of a work convoy Monday afternoon on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, pushing it over the side of the southbound span and killing the driver, said an aerosol can rolling around on the floor of his vehicle prevented him from pressing the brake pedal, according to Carlton Dufrechou, general manager of the Causeway.
Divers recovered the body of 57-year-old Edward Burton, of New Orleans, just after 5 p.m. Monday.
Burton was driving an attenuator truck at the rear of a work convoy when the garbage truck struck it with enough force to push the attenuator truck over the side and into Lake Pontchartrain, officials said.
An attenuator truck, sometimes called a crash cushion truck, is built to withstand an impact and protect the slow-moving convoy from accidents such as the one that happened Monday.
Although some of Burton’s co-workers leaped into the water to help him, he never resurfaced, Dufrechou said. Those co-workers had to be pulled from the water by Causeway workers, he said.
The southbound span was closed for several hours Monday while the wreck was cleared and the scene investigated. It reopened early Tuesday morning but then was closed again for about two hours late in the morning while the attenuator truck was pulled from the water. It reopened about noon.
The name of the garbage truck driver has not been released, but Dufrechou said he expects him to face charges.
“At a minimum, in my opinion, the driver of the garbage truck was not paying adequate attention,” Dufrechou said.
The work convoy was well-marked with police lights and the attenuator truck, and notices of the work were posted on message boards along the Causeway, Dufrechou said.
After hitting the attenuator truck, the garbage truck hit a Causeway Police cruiser and came to rest on its side, Dufrechou said.
The driver was pinned inside the garbage truck and had to be rescued, but he was examined on the scene by EMS and not taken to a hospital. Dufrechou described him as “extremely distraught.”
The driver told officers that an aerosol can rolled under the brake pedal and prevented him from stopping, but investigating officers had not found the aerosol can as of Tuesday afternoon.
Investigators believe the garbage truck was going 61 mph — 4 mph below the posted limit — when it hit the attenuator truck, Dufrechou said.
Causeway officials have said in recent months that they are worried about an increasing number of accidents on the nearly 60-year-old southbound span in which vehicles go over the side into the water.
Monday’s was the 13th overboard accident since 1994, and the 10th that has resulted in a fatality.
The public body that runs the Causeway, the Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission, has asked Texas A&M engineers to study ways to bolster the concrete barriers on the older span.
Those rails are 6 inches lower than on the newer northbound span, where there have been no overboard accidents in the past 20 years.
The trick will be finding a way to pay for the improvements.
Causeway officials have said they are actively pursuing federal and state grant funding and have floated the idea of raising tolls on the bridge, which has had only one toll increase since it opened in 1956.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.