The driver of a semitrailer truck who illegally drove through the Lowry Hill Tunnel and damaged 47 overhead lights as he passed through has been identified and now faces a series of charges and undetermined fines.
Miguel Ciena-Torres, of Apopka, Fla., was cited for careless driving and failing to obey a regulatory sign, said Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the Minnesota State Patrol. In addition he will have a mandatory court date due to the damage in the construction zone, she said.
Torres, 69, was driving west on I-94 during the morning rush hour on July 28 when his semitrailer truck clipped the lights affixed to the wall adjacent to the inside lane as he went through. Minnesota Department of Transportation traffic management cameras were rolling as fixtures, light bulbs and large metal pieces rained down on passing motorists and littered the traffic lanes with debris. A video of the incident released this week showed the big rig with the letters JNJ displayed on the top of its cab striking the lights, but not stopping.
The State Patrol had been working over the past week to positively identify the driver. The patrol determined that Torres was at the wheel when the damage and driving infraction occurred at 6:36 a.m.
It was not immediately clear if Torres worked for JNJ Express or was a contract employee. A call and e-mail to the family owned and operated company based in Memphis, Tenn., was not immediately returned.
"JNJ Express is aware of the accident in Minnesota," the company said in a statement posted on its website and Facebook page. "We are in contact and fully cooperating with the proper authorities, the Minnesota State Police. We have been handling this accident for days but we appreciate everyone that reached out to us. Accidents happen, so please be safe out there."
MnDOT spokesman David Aeikens said the agency is still assessing the damage and has not yet come up with a dollar amount but will seek reimbursement for damage. The agency will file a claim through the truck company's or the driver's insurance. That process could take months to complete, he said.
Trucks and vehicles over 9,000 pounds have been banned from the Lowry Hill Tunnel since late June, when MnDOT reduced the number of traffic lanes to two in each direction and at times have had motorists sharing one side of the tunnel. Traffic was shifted to the westbound side of the tunnel Friday and drivers will share that side of the tube for about four weeks. Large vehicles were banned because of the narrow traffic lanes — only 10 feet wide instead of the normal 12 — and that created a safety hazard, Aeikens said.
But they also can damage equipment and put workers in danger, he added.
Violators are fined $300, and in this case that could be much more.