Video: Vehicle caught fire after racing driver crashed inside Hampton Roads Bridge–Tunnel on Sunday

Posted at 7:51 AM, Oct 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-08 15:26:15-04

HAMPTON, Va. - Police say a driver that was allegedly racing on the highway lost control inside the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, causing the vehicle to catch fire.

Reports say the single vehicle accident took place around 9:21 p.m., on Sunday, October 4, in the eastbound lanes of HRBT.

Emerson Davis, who was not at the crash said he posted video of the aftermath of the accident on Tik Tok for his friend.
You can see smoke in the tunnel and people were panicking. The person who took the video told News 3 he feared for his life which is why he said he started taking video.

He said the people trapped in the tunnel didn't know what was going on.

They had to be evacuated while VDOT cleaned up the crash.

"Neither of us expected to get more than 10 million views," said Davis.

Reports allege that five vehicles were racing when one lost control inside the tunnel and struck the tunnel wall two times, causing the vehicle to catch fire.

The fire and fumes caused everyone to get out of their vehicles and evacuate on to the islands until Norfolk and Hampton fire crews could put out the fire.

During this time, vehicles stopped on the bridge both east and westbound, and a fight ensued between drivers, and police say 'other incidents occurred' as well.

The 17-year-old male from Virginia Beach was charged with reckless driving by racing, along with the other drivers, and reckless driving general.

The vehicle was totaled, but the driver that crashed was not injured.

Chuck Wooster is the president of the David E. Wooster and Associates, a traffic engineering consulting firm. He said he has a lot of experience with tunnels.

He said drivers need to anticipate other drivers putting on the brakes when they enter a tunnel. "It feels tighter in a tunnel. They feel like the lanes are getting narrower and typically that does not happen but it feels that way so they feel like the need to slow down. If the person behind them isn’t paying attention that could be an issue," said Wooster.

VDOT issued the following statement:

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) maintains six major bridges and tunnels in Hampton Roads. These include the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT), Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Tunnel (MMMBT), George P. Coleman Bridge, James River Bridge, High Rise Bridge and the Berkley Bridge.

In everything that VDOT does, the safety of the traveling public is our top priority.

If a motorist is in a crash where there are no injuries or the vehicle breaks down, it is required by law to move the vehicle to the road's shoulder, out of the flow of traffic. This cannot always be accommodated on a bridge or in a tunnel, where motorists and their passengers are advised to stay in their vehicle and wait for help.

Tunnel traffic is closely monitored by CCTV 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and both VDOT and Safety Service Patrol (SSP) trucks and flatbed tow trucks are on standby at either end. A heavy-duty wrecker is also on standby. Additionally, a Virginia State Police officer is on standby for part of that time to enforce over-height restrictions and assist with incidents.

When an incident occurs, an incident team is dispatched quickly to assist. In most cases, tow trucks will move the vehicle to the island and provide the required assistance, such as refilling gas, changing a flat tire, etc. If there is a medical emergency, EMT and fire personnel are called, generally arriving in about four minutes. Depending on the nature of the incident, crews can clear the lanes in as little as 15 minutes.

VDOT staff trains year-round, in conjunction with local first responders, for emergencies just like this.

“In the event a motorist is involved in an incident in one of VDOT’s tunnels, remain in your vehicle. Know that crews see you, and help is on the way,” said Holly Christopher, VDOT Hampton Roads Communications Manager.

A vehicle fire, as was the case on the evening of Sunday, Oct. 4, adds more complexity to the situation. Smoke from the fire is the biggest concern for safety. To combat this, the Control Room staff sets the ventilation fans to aggressively blow the smoke away from the trapped vehicles. The VDOT Field Operators and First Responders then enter the tube and start directing citizens to exit their vehicles as quickly as possible and leave the tunnel on foot in the opposite direction of the fire. As time is of the essence, it is important for motorists and their passengers to follow that direction and to leave their belongings in the vehicle.

There is a gathering point identified on the island just outside the open cut of the tunnel for those citizens. This is the location where any injured are treated, we collect information and get head counts, etc. If someone is physically unable to leave their vehicle or has trouble walking it is imperative that they announce that to the responder as they approach so they can coordinate additional support.

And finally, we always encourage motorists to practice safe driving any time they’re on VDOT’s roadways. This includes avoiding distractions, maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you, avoiding sudden or unnecessary braking in a tunnel and obeying all posted speed limits.

Stay with News 3 for updates.