A 2015 Nissan Altima got rear-ended by a big-rig on a bridge in Mt. Vernon, Washington on Tuesday morning. The truck hit the car with so much force that the vehicle’s unibody folded onto itself, forcing the tires to the top of the car. Miraculously, the occupant survived. Here’s what I know about this wreck based on a chat with police.
Trooper Rocky Oliphant included these photos in his tweet about an awful crash on a bridge that crosses over the Skagit River in Mt. Vernon. “There’s really not a word to describe this collision. Miraculously believed to be minor injuries,” his tweet reads. “The car was struck from behind, folded the car in half, and semi came to rest on top of the car. In my 14 year career, I have never seen anything like it.”
Looking at the photos — especially the one above — one would likely not expect the car’s occupant to have survived. Even the responding officer on the scene was expecting this to be a fatal collision, Oliphant told me over the phone.
In our phone conversation, Oliphant described the whole situation. “A semi truck — not the one that you’re seeing in the picture — was slowing kind of quickly for traffic there,” he began. “The passenger vehicle that was ultimately struck was slowing behind that semi truck.”
A truck behind the Altima didn’t slow down quickly enough, hit the car, and pushed it into the truck in front. “The momentum from the rear semi-truck continued and kind of caused the [Altima’s] rear bumper/trunk area to fold on top of itself,” Oliphant continued. “It kind of created a little bit of like a ramp for the truck to just move on top of the car, and it continued forward until it was basically resting on top of that car.”
The trooper who arrived on the scene assumed the worst. “It kinda sounded like it was going towards a fatality collision when he initially saw it,” Oliphant said about the trooper. “But then when he was walking around the scene, he could hear someone talking from the car asking for help.”
That’s when the state patrol arranged for a tow truck to go the wrong way down a freeway to arrive at the bridge to lift the nose of the truck. The photos you see above show the truck actually lifted from the vehicle; to think that the truck actually sat lower immediately after the crash, meaning the occupant survival space was even smaller that what we see here, is incredible to me.
The state patrol had to shut down both lanes of traffic, since large trucks crossing the bridge were shaking the semi-truck on top of the Altima, possibly endangering the occupant trapped in the wreckage.
“Once the front end of the [truck] was lifted off of the car, she was able to extricate herself,” Oliphant described. “[She] crawled out of the car and walked from the scene. Complained of some rib pain and some minor head pain initially.”
“An unbelievable incredible story,” he concluded.
Looking at the wreckage, it’s hard to believe that someone survived. The photo directly above shows the rear suspension — normally hidden from view under the car — facing the rear of the car. That suspension is bolted to a body that has folded over onto itself. The collision was apparently so violent that the exhaust system didn’t have time to join the rest of the vehicle, and stayed behind.
Looking at the top photo, and seeing how the Altima’s rear wheels now appear to be helping hold the truck up, it seems that the folded body may have contributed to the occupant’s survival. Trooper Oliphant agrees, though he admits he’s not an accident reconstructionist. “More compressed metal. That maybe keeps the semi truck higher off the ground...that may have played a contributing factor to saving her life.”
It’s also worth noting that the Nissan Altima did receive a good roof strength rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. So I bet that helped a little:
The person in the crushed and folded Nissan was taken to a nearby hospital. Police cited the trucker who hit the car for following too closely.