Tragedy was narrowly averted Wednesday when a 60,000-pound garbage truck swerved, crossed all four lanes of traffic on U.S. 1, missed a bicyclist and plowed into the water just south of the Boca Chica Bridge -- injuring no one.
"If you can call any accident fortunate, it would be this one," said Monroe County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin. "Remarkably, no one was hit."
The Waste Management truck, loaded with garbage, was headed north at 10:30 a.m. at 50 mph en route to company property on East Rockland Key when the driver apparently lost control at Mile Marker 6, said Sgt. Tom Walker.
The truck went through the grassy median, through both southbound lanes without hitting traffic, just missed a sign post, went down the embankment, across the bicycle path, and splashed some 15 to 20 feet into the water before coming to rest on the driver's side, Walker said.
A bicyclist had to stop and let the careening truck pass her before it slammed into the water.
"She had a nice racing bike and those foot clips on the pedals, and she said she couldn't get out of the foot clips fast enough," Walker said.
When emergency crews arrived, passenger Howard Hayes, 45, of Key West was outside trying to help the driver, Ducson Louis, 23, also of Key West, get out of the swampy truck, Walker said.
He viewed on-board video cameras inside the truck that showed the truck's speed.
Nothing suggested drugs or alcohol were involved, Walker said.
"Looking at the evidence, I think we had a new employee who may not have much experience behind the wheel of a truck that size," he said.
The swerve may have been caused by uneven asphalt on that stretch of U.S. 1, Walker added.
Hayes was cited for careless driving, he said.
Arnold's Towing had to use its 52,000-pound tow truck "Conchzilla" as well as its 35,000-pound truck "Conchfritter" to get the garbage truck out of the water, said Ricky Arnold Jr.
There was minimal oil and garbage in the water that had to be removed, the elder Arnold added.
"Waste Management runs a tight ship with their trucks; we would have had an oil spill in the water had the truck not been maintained well," Arnold said.
"We removed maybe a quart of oil from the water."