Thruway to review signage after fatal Tappan Zee Bridge wrong-way crash

July 26, 2013 6:48:27 PM PDT
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, New York state police said Wednesday.

A woman was pronounced dead at the scene of the five-car accident that took place just before 9 p.m. Tuesday in the northbound lanes of the bridge.

The New York State Thruway Authority released a statement on the crash saying, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this week's fatal wrong-way crash and their families. Thruway officials will carefully study the findings of the State Police investigation of the accident, and will review signage and pavement markings at Thruway entrances and exits on the Rockland side of the bridge. While the accident rate on the Tappan Zee Bridge is twice that of the rest of the New York State Thruway system, the Thruway remains one of the country's safest superhighways. The New NY Bridge will be equipped with breakdown lanes, extra-wide shoulders and emergency turnarounds that will help emergency services personnel divert traffic so that motorists will not be stranded for hours in the aftermath of a serious accident."

Authorities say the investigation revealed that 69-year-old Michael Schechel, of Thiells, was driving his white SUV southbound in the northbound lanes when his vehicle slammed head-on into a Nissan operated by 57-year-old Newman Ayeh-Brachie, of Hillcrest, causing it to roll over multiple times before coming to rest on its roof in the middle lane.

A passenger of Ayeh-Brachie's vehicle, 56-year-old Hannah Ayeh-Brachie, was pronounced dead at the scene by the Rockland County Medical Examiner.

Schechel suffered a head injury and was transported to Nyack Hospital. Schechel's passenger, 56-year-old Luz Hoffman, was transported to Westchester Medical Center with unknown injuries. Newman Ayeh-Brachie was also transported to Westchester Medical Center with unknown injuries.

Police said Wednesday afternoon 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."

Drugs and alcohol figured in a horrific wrong-way crash four years ago on the Taconic Parkway, about seven miles from the Tappan Zee, that killed eight people including four children. Investigators determined that the wrong-way driver, Diane Schuler, was intoxicated and had been smoking marijuana.

On Tuesday, state police said, they received a report of a driver going south on the northbound lanes of the bridge at 8:51 p.m., just seconds before they heard about the crash.

They said Schechel, of Thiells, got on the highway using the Exit 10 off-ramp in South Nyack, the closest exit to the bridge.

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.

A third car driven by by 34-year-od Juan Robles of the Bronx hit the Nissan and two other vehicles crashed into the pileup, police said. Robles was uninjured.

A fourth car, driven by 44-year-old Nancy Gallo, of Basking Ridge, rear-ended Robles. Gallo was transported to Westchester Medical Center due to neck pain and shock.

Thomas Gibson, 40, of Poughkeepsie, then sideswiped Schechel's vehicle. Gibson was traveling with his 10-year-old son, and both were uninjured.

The northbound lanes were closed for the investigation, and even though the southbound side remained open, two lanes were closed for construction while rubbernecking delays backed up traffic for miles.

Many of the entrance ramps to the bridge were also closed while crews worked to clean up the scene.

It took so long to clear the area that many drivers got out of their cars. The roadway reopened around 4 a.m.