From Pencil To Print: Crash And Fire On Rochambeau Bridge, Hours Of Subsequent Gridlock

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Published: Apr 20, 2021 08:00 AM

Our occasional series “From Pencil To Print” shares how a recent story went from conception to bylined feature for our print edition and website.

The rollover of a truck and subsequent fire, followed by eight hours of what Police Chief James Viadero described during a Board of Police Commissioners meeting as “gridlocked roads in Newtown,” was covered from start to finish in the print edition of April 2, 2021, and online as it happened.

Work on the story (“Rochambeau Bridge Temporarily Closed Following Truck Rollover, Fire In Construction Zone”) covering the March 30 truck crash and fire that closed the bridge that carries I-84 over Lake Zoar for hours began when Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue and Newtown Hook & Ladder Co. #1 were dispatched to the crash scene, shortly after 7 am that morning.

I was still home, but have scanners in my home, and heard the call go out. Before I could even leave the house, the call had been upgraded: The truck was on fire, fully engulfed. Fortunately, the driver was safely out almost immediately.

To get photos of the scene, I used the back route to Southbury — which tens of thousands of people were going to be doing for the better part of that weekday, we now know — heading over the Glen Road Silver Bridge in Sandy Hook and over River Road in Southbury.

I took my first few photos from the bridge near the Southbury Town Beach (opposite Berkshire Road), then went to the bridge over the highway and used my second camera, with a zoom lens, to get closer views of the scene.

Once the fire was out, it was time to get to the office, where I continued monitoring scanners for updates.

Because this event was affecting thousands of people in real time, posts went up on The Newtown Bee Facebook and Twitter as soon as the crash happened, allowing followers to try to avoid any backup in the immediate area.

As the incident continued, updates were posted to those feeds, letting readers know not only when firefighters and EMS personnel had cleared from the scene, but also to alert them that both lanes of the bridge would remain closed for quite some time.

Within a few hours I was able to put together a story about the crash and fire, which we posted to our website. The closure of the eastern span was having ramifications not only on that bridge, but also in surrounding towns. Every vehicle traveling in either direction on I-84 was being detoured off the highway, and traveling through Newtown and parts of Southbury.

It was determined that we should do not only social media posts, but also a full story online to let people who went to our website know why traffic on the interstate was at a standstill as far west as Danbury and as far east as the Southbury-Middlebury line.

The following morning, I contacted Connecticut State Police (CSP) for their report.

With this being something that happened on the highway, Connecticut State Police troopers were the law enforcement personnel to respond to the scene and file a report.

CSP’s Public Information Officers provided that report, allowing us to update the story with details about the driver (name, age, hometown), the truck (make and model), and their narrative of what happened out there.

Contact was also made with the project manager of the Rochambeau Bridge Renovation Project, who was able to provide the number of vehicles that regularly use the spans over Lake Zoar. He also confirmed that an inspection of the bridge had been done after the crash, before it was reopened for public use.

All of the information was collated by Wednesday afternoon, March 31, and then filed for the print edition of Friday, April 2. One of the first steps in covering the March 30 truck crash and fire on the Rochambeau Bridge for The Bee was a drive to the River Road bridge in Southbury, which offered a dramatic view of the incident.

This photo was taken within minutes of firefighters arriving on the scene. –Bee Photo, Hicks