An electrical conduit collapsed onto a tractor-trailer that was traveling through a highway tunnel in Pennsylvania, killing the driver and causing a major traffic closure that lasted into the morning.
The big rig was heading southbound through the Lehigh Tunnel of the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike around 6 p.m. Wednesday when the metal conduit from the ceiling area crashed through the vehicle's windshield, Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim said.
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.
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.
Sexton's wife became suspicious when her husband didn't call Wednesday night to see how her day went. East Greenwich police delivered the tragic news later that night.
Sexton, who has grown children, had driven for Raymour & Flanigan for the past 19 years, his family said. He had planned on retiring this summer.
The furniture company issued a statement Thursday evening, saying Sexton was a "beloved member" of its Southern New Jersey team. "He will be missed terribly," the statement read.
An autopsy is planned for Friday to determine Sexton's cause of death.
Drivers were detoured southbound between the Mahoning Valley (Exit 74) and Lehigh Valley (Exit 56) interchanges until around 8 a.m. Turnpike electricians worked overnight to repair the conduit.
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.
As repairs and inspections on the southbound tunnel continued into the afternoon, the turnpike diverted southbound traffic into the northbound tunnel tube. The southbound tunnel finally reopened around 2:45 p.m.
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.