WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A wrong-way driver slammed into an oncoming vehicle on New York's Tappan Zee Bridge, killing a passenger and sparking a five-car pileup that closed the northbound lanes of the state Thruway for hours, state police said Wednesday.
Idled motorists on the three-mile-long bridge, a major Hudson River crossing north of New York City, got out of their cars and watched as responders pulled one victim from a crumpled vehicle, treated the injured and investigated the scene under floodlights.
Several people, including the wrong-way driver, Michael Schechel, 69, were taken to hospitals after the Tuesday night crash, police said. There were no immediate arrests.
They said Schechel, of Thiells, got on the highway using an off-ramp in South Nyack, the closest exit to the bridge.
Christian Evans of South Nyack told The Journal News that he was getting off the Thruway when he saw a Ford Explorer coming at him on the ramp.
"It was like a game of chicken," he said. "If I didn't move they were coming. ... I laid on my horn, I moved over, let them pass."
Police said Wednesday afternoon they were investigating whether drugs or alcohol played a part in Schechel getting into the wrong lanes, but had no evidence yet to support that.
"That's among the many things we're looking into," said spokesman Sgt. John Antonelli. He said Schechel's wife had told police he had an anxiety attack at some point before the crash, "But it's unknown if that's a factor."
Drugs and alcohol figured in a horrific wrong-way crash four years ago about seven miles away on a parkway that killed eight people, including four children. Investigators determined that the driver, Diane Schuler, was intoxicated and had been smoking marijuana.
On Tuesday, state police said, they received a report of a driver going south on the northbound lanes of the bridge at 8:51 p.m., just seconds before they heard about the crash.
Police said once on the bridge, Schechel crashed his SUV head-on into a Nissan in which Hannah Ayeh-Brachie, 56, of Hillcrest, was a passenger.
The Nissan rolled over several times and landed on its roof in the middle lane, police said. Ayeh-Brachie was pronounced dead at the scene, they said. Her husband, Newman Ayeh-Brachie, who was driving, had to be extricated from the nearly flattened car, police said.
Antonelli said Schechel suffered a head injury and police would talk to him after he was treated.
A passenger in Schechel's vehicle was among the injured.
A third car hit the Nissan and two other vehicles crashed into the pileup, police said.
Two lanes on the southbound side of the bridge were also closed at times during the investigation but the bridge was completely open for the Wednesday morning rush hour.