ELLENTON -- A 40-year-old Largo man was in stable condition at Blake Medical Center Thursday after a harrowing trip careening off the Jeffrey D. Young Bridge into the Manatee River.
The man was driving a semi-tractor trailer beer truck at 4:30 a.m. heading north when he lost control of the rig on the bridge, which carries Interstate 75 traffic over the Manatee River between Bradenton and Ellenton, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.
The accident resulted in one lane closure for three hours and traffic backups, said Lt. Chris Miller of the Florida Highway Patrol.
The accident was caused by poor weather and driver error, Miller added.
"It was raining and the driver lost control," Miller said. "It jack-knifed, went to the center median and
went over the retaining wall. I don't know if he was speeding, but drivers are responsible for adjusting their driving behavior for weather. You've got to reduce speed and keep distance between you and the one in front of you and be vigilant."
Charges are pending completion of an investigation, Miller added.
After his truck struck the inside concrete bridge retaining wall and tumbled into the water below, somehow, the driver scrambled out of the cab and got on top of the truck.
"He was out of the water and standing on the roof of the truck when the emergency medical technicians arrived on the scene," Miller said. "They had to send a boat out to get him."
Part of the reason for the long lane closure was for officials to check the retaining wall for structural damage, Miller said.
"The engineers checked it out and the wall just had minor damage," Miller said.
Florida Highway Patrol officials could not confirm or deny that the truck was empty at the time. But no beer cans or bottles appeared to be floating, Miller said.
"An absorbent material was put in the water to soak up oil and other fluids," Miller added.
The beer truck was expected to be hauled out of the river late Thursday or Friday, Miller said.
Representatives of both J.J. Taylor Distributing of Tampa and Golden Eagle Distributing of Lakewood Ranch said the truck was not theirs.
Several sources told the Herald that the beer truck was from Micro Man Distributors out of Oldsmar.
"I can't comment right now," a Micro Man employee said when asked if the truck belong to the company.