MONTREAL — A projectile plummeted onto a bustling underpass Thursday, injuring a car passenger in a bizarre incident that had police baffled.
The evening began with authorities investigating what was initially assumed to be the latest mishap caused by Montreal’s notoriously deteriorating infrastructure.
Within hours, however, police had opened a criminal probe: they said they were beginning to explore the theory that someone had dropped the projectile onto the avenue below.
Just before the afternoon rush hour a 10-centimetre, concrete-like object dropped onto busy Papineau Avenue, smashing through the windshield of a car passing through the underpass below.
A passenger suffered what were described as minor injuries to his arms. Televised images showed the 29-year-old man standing on the sidewalk with blood spattered along his forearms.
Police explained later Thursday that municipal engineers had been scouring every inch of the concrete structure to find a spot from where the chunk had fallen. They came up empty.
So investigators shifted to other possible theories about what might have caused the incident — including the hypothesis that someone had tossed the object.
“The (falling) piece apparently did not come from the structure,” Const. Olivier Lapointe told reporters.
“Now it’s our job to find out where it came from. A criminal investigation is being opened… Was it a suspect — a person on the overpass who threw the object? That’s a possibility.”
The city has been on edge over the crumbling state of its roads and bridges, and Thursday’s incident evoked instant comparisons to a frightening event several weeks ago.
Well aware of those local concerns, Mayor Gerald Tremblay headed to the scene late Thursday to reassure rattled residents that the structure was safe.
He made sure to avoid referring to the object as concrete — even though it did appear somewhat similar to the material commonly used in Montreal infrastructure.
“I want to reassure the people of Montreal: the rock that caused this incident has nothing to do with the structure,” Tremblay said. “Vehicles can pass in total safety.”
Late last month, a massive chunk of concrete — 25 tonnes — collapsed from the top of the city’s Ville-Marie expressway.
Already, two major bridges into the city have required urgent repairs to ensure their safety. And two overpasses have collapsed near Montreal in recent years, causing deaths.
Closures to bridges and tunnels this summer have exacerbated Montreal’s already chronic road congestion, causing major traffic jams at odd hours including nights and weekends.
The underpass where Thursday’s incident occurred is beneath east-end train tracks used by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a secondary line.
Officials at the railway said the city, not their company, was responsible for upkeep of the structure.
They added that, in any case, their own engineers’ assessment led them to conclude the falling material came from elsewhere.
“We had engineers along with City of Montreal engineers at the scene,” CP spokesman Ed Greenberg told The Canadian Press.
“It was determined that the piece of concrete did not come from the overpass structure.”
The railway briefly shut down the line Thursday afternoon for precautionary reasons, but opened it soon theareafter. The avenue remained closed for longer.