NTSB to Wrap Up Investigation Into Pennsylvania Turnpike Tunnel Death Where Electrical Conduit Crashed Into Trucker’s Windshield

Federal agency joins probe of trucker's highway tunnel death

Federal investigators are looking into the death last week of a trucker killed when a section of electrical conduit fell through his windshield.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said Monday the National Transportation Safety Board expects to finish its inspection Wednesday and may issue a preliminary report within about a month.

State police say the truck driver was killed Feb. 21 when the section of conduit struck him in the head while he was driving through the turnpike's Lehigh Tunnel near Slatington. A coroner described the conduit as a large pipe.

The driver, identified as Howard Sexton of Mickleton, New Jersey, continued through the tunnel, despite being struck in the head, before pulling over on the shoulder of the roadway, Pennsylvania State Police said.

Several other vehicles sustained minor damaged by the debris left by the wreck, police said. The southbound lanes of the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike's tunnel were shut down shortly afterward.

NBC10 / Family Photo

During their investigation, troopers found the 70-year-old big rig driver dead behind the wheel, police said.

The truck apparently had coasted to a stop after riding along the guardrail, Sexton's wife of 25 years, Michelle, and other family members told NBC10. The coroner told the family it appeared Sexton died instantly.

Officials say the Lehigh Tunnel's southbound side is the only tunnel in the turnpike system that has electrical conduit directly above drivers, rather than in a parallel tunnel.

Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said the agency's engineering department was investigating. He declined to comment on the cause, or about the size or use of the conduit. The conduit came loose in the southbound tunnel, a 4,500-foot tube that opened in November 1991. 
DeFebo said the Lehigh Tunnel's southbound tube is the only tunnel in the system in which electrical conduit is directly above drivers. In older tunnels, the pipes are located with ventilation equipment in a parallel utility tunnel above the roadway.

He said the tunnel's most recent inspection occurred in September 2016. The agency in December sought bids to replace Lehigh Tunnel lights, with work expected to begin this spring.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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