18-wheeler driver believed to be dead after crashing off I-10 E bridge into river

Authorities believe the driver of an 18-wheeler is dead after the vehicle crashed off the bridge on I-10 E westbound at Crosby-Lynchburg and into the San Jacinto River in east Harris County.

All westbound lanes are open.

However, the submerged 18-wheeler will remain where it is overnight as it cannot be safely removed right now.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office will provide security overnight.

Authorities say that around 3:40 a.m. there was an initial hit-and-run wreck involving the 18-year-old driver of a Chevrolet Cavalier.

The 18-year-old, who also had a 23-year-old passenger, said his car was hit by a semi, who drove off.

His car spun around into oncoming traffic, causing it to face eastbound in the westbound lanes. The vehicle did not have its lights on.

A Harris County Sheriff's Office deputy was taking the teen's report as he stood next to his car on the shoulder, when the driver of a second 18-wheeler swerved to miss the crash scene.

Officials told ABC13 that second 18-wheeler driver crashed through the guardrail, plunged 20-30 feet off the bridge, and into the water.

The 18-wheeler barely missed the driver, his passenger and the deputy.

"Thankfully, she's (the deputy) not hurt. Thankfully, the two occupants who were in the Chevy are not hurt either. However, she described that it happened very quickly, of course, so it's hard to piece together what actually happened," said HCSO Sgt. Simon Cheng.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said a search is underway right now for the driver. There are no signs the driver escaped.

Gonzalez said later Thursday morning it's possible the force of the truck hitting the water pushed the driver's body into the sleeper portion of the cab.

Investigators said finding the driver has proved to be more difficult than they thought because the water is murky and sandy. The ground is also unstable, so they can't just pull out the truck.

"A very complex, difficult operation. It's still underway. There are a couple of challenges. One is that it's literally in or adjacent to a superfund site, so we are very concerned for our diver's safety and other personnel down there. With the assistance of Baytown PD, we have been able to send a diver down there. It appears the front of the truck is submerged into some silt," said Gonzalez.

Though it appears the bridge was not damaged, TxDOT crews will still need to inspect it. Investigators aren't sure if the 18-wheeler hit a bridge pillar when it plummeted into the water, according to the sheriff.

A barge hit the same area of the bridge about a month ago.

Until inspectors know the outside of the bridge is safe, only two lanes will stay open.

During the morning rush hour, traffic backed up for miles. Drivers are asked to be patient while deputies continue to investigate.

ABC13 has reached out to trucking company Rich Logistics, who released the following statement:

Rich Logistics is deeply saddened by the tragic death of its driver. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

This matter is currently being investigated and we are unable to provide any further information at this time.

The driver has not been identified.

Deputies are still searching for the first hit-and-run semi driver who allegedly sideswiped the Chevy, causing the initial crash.

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