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skyway bridge collapse disaster7:33 am., friday, may 9, 1980
offsite links could be broken at any time.
disaster videos and pictures
the victims • comments • books
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►your thoughts or memories about the skyway bridge disaster
corrections and additions are always welcome.
11.23.18: skyway bridge disaster documentary
05.09.80: 'summit venture' may-day distress call to the coast guard.
05.09.80: ship strikes bridge, fear 90 may be dead.
05.09.80: tragedy is third time skyway hit in four months.
05.10.80: original st. pete times newspaper coverage.
05.10.80: original lakeland ledger newspaper coverage.
05.10.80: officials describe bodies in effort to aid identifications.
05.10.80: a rainy, twisted scene of death: is anyone alive down there?
05.10.80: the curious braved rain for a look at disaster.
05.10.80: some suggest skyway bridge is cursed.
05.10.80: driver survives bridge collapse.
05.10.80: survivor remembers bridge swaying, then there was nothing.
05.10.80: divers find bodies in rubble.
05.10.80: the tragedy that was no accident.
05.10.80: death toll 32.
05.10.80: fenders - skyway has never had the kind that deflect large ships.
05.10.80: the bus - it's driver, one who rode it, two who didn't.
05.11.80: same pilot hit bridge in february.
05.11.80: lack of identification hampers naming of victims.
05.11.80: bus driver diverts two girls.
05.11.80: span search suspended.
05.12.80: skyway victims - varied memories.
05.12.80: pilot involved in seven incidents before skyway.
05.12.80: salvage crew raises bus from the bay; undamaged span reopens
05.12.80: two more cars found in bay.
05.12.80: tuskegee mourns students / relatives reveal identities
05.13.80: investigation begins / two more bodies found
05.13.80: why a disaster was very likely. reprint of a 06.04.78 article.
05.13.80: why didn't the d.o.t. listen?
05.13.80: channel opened in tampa bay.
05.14.80: mangled metal
05.14.80: another body found.
05.15.80: lookout's role examined in skyway disaster.
05.15.80: body of 35th victim found.
05.16.80: narrow escape for crewman.
05.16.80: harbor pilot to testify.
05.16.80: citizens' group urges skyway safety review.
05.16.80: skyway insurer expected to pay state's claim.
05.16.80: ship lookout saw bridge's 'shadow' just before crash.
05.16.80: another pilot anchored his vessel during squalls at skyway.
05.17.80: i just have to learn to live with it.
05.17.80: 2 pilots describe storm during bridge collapse.
05.19.80: skyway tragedy poetry.
05.20.80: wider channel opened under skyway bridge.
05.20.80: trainee pilot had no hint anything was wrong.
05.20.80: suit filed over death on skyway.
05.21.80: bay traffic resumes since accident.
05.21.80: expert testifies on wind effect on summit venture. more
05.22.80: tampa skyway bridge inquiry nearly done.
05.27.80: explosives to clear skyway debris must wait.
05.30.80: miscellany - 3 skyway briefs.
05.30.80: engineer says shortcuts helped bring down skyway bridge.
06.15.80: engineer - cheapness a factor in skyway bridge.
06.18.80: many residents refuse to drive across skyway.
06.18.80: state suspends lerro's pilot license.
06.25.80: two way ship traffic to be allowed under skyway bridge.
06.26.80: skyway salvage, it's going to cost $2.5 million.
07.01.80: junk dealer offers skyway keepsakes.
08.01.80: ballad tells the story of 'the skyway bridge'.
08.14.80: legislators oppose d.o.t.'s preference in replacing span.
09.25.80: experts ignored on skyway faults.
09.25.80: the history of a tragedy.
09.26.80: skyway cracks found last year.
09.26.80: opinion - cost came ahead of our safety.
10.25.80: lerro blames wind for skyway disaster.
10.26.80: pilot a 'scapegoat?'.
10.30.80: firm hired to remove remnants of damaged bridge.
11.19.80: freighter ventures back under the skyway bridge.
01.01.81: skyway bridge disasters, when they were over, 58 were dead.
01.01.81: many questions still remain unanswered in skyway tragedy.
01.03.81: officer rules in pilot's favor.
02.09.81: marine board of investigation, detailed 26 page report.
03.05.81: relatives of skyway victims are puzzled over lerro ruling.
04.10.81: skyway bridge debris use suggested.
04.22.81: national transportation safety board safety recommendations.
05.07.81: 1 • 2 • 3 'the day the bridge fell', 3 pages of articles.
05.08.81: opinion - a year later, no wiser.
05.08.81: skyway bridge plunge recalled by survivor.
10.26.81: skyway trial set to open today.
10.27.81: investigator says bus last to fall from skyway span.
10.28.81: witness says drivers going too fast at time of collapse.
10.28.81: lerro gives testimony at first skyway trial.
10.29.81: close calls described in skyway trial.
10.29.81: witness 'can't recall' collapse of skyway.
10.31.81: expert says driver tried to stop bus on skyway.
11.03.81: dismissal motion in skyway lawsuit is denied.
11.05.81: greyhound wins in skyway suit.
04.13.82: those who merely want to rebuild old skyway 'foolish'.
07.06.82: lawsuits loom in skyway tragedy.
10.13.82: crew's blunders caused bridge fall, lawyers say.
12.14.82: coast guard issues skyway tragedy report.
05.11.83: survivor still has nightmares about skyway disaster.
12.24.83: skyway victim's families begin collecting damages.
02.22.84: bus driver's family awarded $800,000.
05.02.84: survivor settles lawsuit.
06.17.84: second brush with death for man who survived d-day horror.
06.19.84: rubble from skyway to be used as fishing reefs.
09.19.84: owners of freighter that hit skyway to pay $19 million.
05.04.85: bridge collapse five years ago left legacies of change, trauma.
05.09.85: skyway disaster still haunts lerro.
05.08.86: movie on skyway bridge crash planned.
02.07.87: survivor tells of unease over skyway publicity.
02.08.87: bridge arches over disaster.
10.14.89: sole survivor, Wesley MacIntire, dies.
05.06.90: new concerns after disaster / ship pilot atones by counseling.
05.07.00: memories stay with the man at command of the ship.¹
05.07.00: article about the 05.09.80 bridge collapse.¹
05.19.00: man who stopped his car on collapsed skyway dies.
08.31.02: John Lerro, 'summit venture' harbor pilot, dead at 59.¹
05.07.05: 'mayday, mayday': the skyway's last 11 minutes.
08.02.07: minneapolis bridge collapse evokes memories of disaster.¹
07.29.09: the interstate 275 florida blog - the old sunshine skyway bridge.
07.07.11: old skyway fishing pier to get new life as artificial reef.
05.09.15: npr.org, remembering the disaster: 'this is not explainable'.
05.09.18: tampabay.com, the skyway plunged into tampa bay 38 years ago.
05.09.18: heraldtribune.com, photos: skyway bridge disaster anniversary.
05.09.18: heraldtribune.com, sarasota’s connections to the skyway bridge disaster.
11.22.18: baynews9.com, filmmaker turns bridge crash into a documentary.
|additional bridge articles after the disaster|
|• pick-up truck, 1974 ford courier:
Wesley MacIntire, 56, Gulfport, FL.
the only survivor. died: 10.14.89
• car, 1980 chevrolet citation:
Doris Carlson, 42, Pinellas Park, FL.
John J. Carlson, 47, Pinellas Park, FL.
• car, 1979 chevrolet nova:
Leslie Coleman Jr., 52, St. Petersburg
• car, 1980 ford fairmont:
Charles L. Collins, 40, Tampa, FL.
• car, 1975 ford ltd 4-door:
Harry Dietch, 68, St. Petersburg, FL.
Hildred Dietch, 73, St. Petersburg, FL.
• car, 1976 chevrolet el camino:
James A. Pryor, 42, Seminole, FL.
• car, 1979 vw scirocco:
Delores E. Smith, 50, Pennsville, N.J.
Robert S. Smith, 37, Pennsville, N.J.
• 26 on the greyhound bus:
Michael J. Curtin, 43, Apollo Beach, FL., driver
Duane P. Adderly, 21, Miami, FL.
Alphonso Blidge, 22, Miami, FL.
Myrtle Brown, 58, St. Johns, Newfoundland
Willis L. Brown, 57, St. Johns, Newfoundland
John H. Callaway Jr., 19, Miami, FL.
Laverne L. Daniels, 20, Miami, FL.
Sandra L. Davis, 34, McIntosh, FL.
Sharon Dixon, 21, Miami, FL.
Brenda J. Green, 19, Miami, FL.
Robert D. Harding, 63, Glen Falls, N.Y.
Gerda Hedquist, 92, Charlotte Harbor, FL.
Aubrey R. Hudson, 62, St. Johns, Newfoundland
Phyllis Hudson, 58, St. Johns, Newfoundland
Louise T. Johnson, 59, Cataula, Georgia
Yvonne Johnson, 22, Perrine, FL.
Horace V. Lemmons, 47, Kings Mountain, N.C.
Lillian T. Loucks, 69, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Louis Lucas Jr., 62, Dolomite, Alabama
Marguerite L. Mathison, 82, St. Petersburg, FL.
Tawanna K. McClendon, 20, Palmetto, FL.
Manesha McGarrah, 7 months, Tallahassee, FL.
Wanda S. McGarrah, 24, Tallahassee, FL.
Ann Pondy, 57, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Melborne L. Russell, 38, Chicago, Il.
Woodrow Triplett, 33, Bainbridge, Ga.
non-bus rider, but listed as one in a news article:
Mel Buck, 37, got on the bus in Chicago?
1976 buick skylark stopped short of the broken end:
Dick Hornbuckle, 60, St. Petersburg, FL., dies
Jim Crispin, 61, St. Petersburg, FL.
Anthony Gattus, 62, Clearwater, FL., award
Kenneth Holmes, 40, St. Petersburg, FL.
on the ship, summit venture
John Lerro, 37, harbor pilot.
Sit Hau Po, deck hand, lookout
Lok Ling Ming, carpenter, lookout
05.27.18, Charlene Collins, Hickory, I've just run across this page 38 years after my father, Charles Lewis Collins, died in the Skyway Bride accident. I was 16 at
the time and was up getting ready for school. We only had one bathroom so I had to wait for daddy as he was getting ready to go to a business breakfast meeting in Bradenton for work that morning. I know we must have talked but I can't remember what we said sadly. Still all these years later he is missed by me and his brothers and sisters. That day changed my life forever. Thanks for reading this. (we can not imagine how that day affected you and your
family. truly sorry for your loss and how it occurred.)
05.09.18, Dana C., facebook, I was on that bridge when it happened. I was w my parents, brother & sister on our way to granny’s house on vacation. We were the 3rd car behind the gray hound bus that was rocking back & forth before it went off into the ocean below. I was standing n the back seat & looking out the window. I could see & hear the people n the car that was falling into the ocean yelling & screaming for help. I was 5 years old.
12.08.16, Steve S., I boarded a Greyhound bus in Gainesville which I believe to be the one that went off of the Skyway Bridge. I was on the way to Naples Florida where my parents lived. I got on the bus, then had a change of mind. I rarely went to class, yet didn't want to take criticism for not being in school in the middle of the week. I got off the bus and returned my ticket for a loss. Then next morning my roommates told me about the disaster. Just looking at your site, so thought you might like this info.
05.10.11, Tara H., Boston, MA., facebook, My grandfather, Robert D. Harding of Glens Falls, NY, was riding the Greyhound bus which fell into the bay. My Mother, an only child, learned of the loss of her father on the evening (late?) news that Mother's Day. My grandfather was returning home after a job of driving someone's (who chose to fly) car to Florida. The next day, my parent's picked us up early from school and we traveled to the hospital to tell my grandmother, who was recovering from a heart attack in the ICU. I was ten years old and vividly remember being told as I sat at the kitchen table. I started crying while staring at the cover of a math text book. The image of that book always comes to mind. This was experience with the death of a family member. At the wake/funeral I learned that the casket was closed because his body was contained in an insert inside. I vaguely remember my Mother calling it a ziggy. ... Thank you for letting me share.
02.10.08, jay, found on a blog since removed, Posted on 05/11/2007, My father is one of the passengers who died on the Greyhoud bus. "Melborne Russell" My mother and I were depicted in the Book named "Bridge Down" by Mair, George. I remember the day, 9 years old sitting in front of the coin operated television. Hearing the breaking news of the large freight ship hitting the bridge. My mother sobbing and screaming, the Greyhound attendant trying to console her. It was a defining moment in my life. My mother never remarried and I lost a father forever. As I grew older the bridge has always been apart of me. I was the first to cross the new bridge when they had a 3 mile grand opening foot race to memorialize the bridge. My company did Balance testing on the new bridge. My friend of many years lost his wife to suicide on the bridge. Another friend Lost his son to the bridge in a Romeo and Juliet style suicide. I caught a 7' hammerhead under the bridge. I suppose when it is time for me to leave this earth. What a more fitting way than for me to take my last (jay's post ends abruptly.)
09.13.05, Jay R., Sarasota, My father died on this bridge when I was 7, His name was Melbourne Russell, He was a passenger on the Greyhound bus coming from chicago when the Summit Venture hit the bridge. My Mother and I never were close, I was raised by my aunt. Well she has passed and I am trying to find as much info about my father as possible. The only Picture I have seen of him is when he was being pulled from the water by coast guard divers. He has the Black buckled boots. Every time i have searched I come to this site. I am having a hard time finding Information. I don't even know where he was buried. If anyone could help i would appreciate it. melissa and dave respond:
12.03.05, Melissa, Dallas, TX., This information is for Jay R., who was seeking more information about his father who died in the 1980 Skyway bridge accident. A quick search of the Social Security Death Index revealed that his father's full name was Melborn Leon Russell, born 16 Feb 1942 and had the Social Security Number [number withheld], applied for in Illinois. He can request a certified copy of his father's death certificate from the Florida Department of Health for $5.00 (including shipping; expedited shipping is available for an extra fee). Further information on it can be found at www.doh.state.fl.us/. I took a quick look at Find-A-Grave but it didn't turn anything up on where he's buried. (we passed this on to jay. thank you.)
12.30.07, Dave B., The following information is for Jay Russell (posted 9-13-05), son of one Melbourne L. Russell who perished in the 5-9-80 Sunshine bridege tragedy as a rider on a Greyhound Bus. Please follow the link here- summitventure pdf file Go to page number 7 of 26 in the pdf attachment. Your father was Married to one Julia Ann Russell. The body was sent to Sarasota Funeral Home @ 3340 Bee Ridge Rd. Sarasota, FL. His body was cremated by the Seacoast Crematory in Sarasota. Perhaps, this information will allow you to search records of these businesses and help you find closure.. May God bless you in your search and fill the void you are looking to fill. (we tried to pass this on to jay, but it was returned 'undeliverable'. perhaps he will check back here and update his email address. thank you.)
|have a skyway disaster story or remembrance?|
3 - Bridge Down, by George Mair
4 - Disaster on the Sunshine Skyway, by Dale Andrew White
5 - Skyway : The Sunshine Skyway Bridge Disaster of 1980, by Page, Skinner, Curtis
6 - Bridge to Oblivion, skyway based historical fiction, by Henry Hoffman
gainesville.com, 'Skyway' author retells the story of bridge tragedy,
By Lillian Guevara-Castro
Behind every tragedy, there are stories of happenstance, intent and neglect that never see the light of day.
For St. Petersburg native Bill DeYoung, the questions behind the story of the 1980 collapse of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge were too many to ignore. What began as leisure reading on the 30th anniversary of the accident grew into an immersion into the details of the event that ended in the death of 35 people and the lifelong burden of guilt for the man many blamed for the accident.
"I couldn't stop thinking about it," DeYoung said. "I just started asking a lot of questions not thinking it would be a long-term project. The more I read, the more I wanted to know."
The result, three and a half years later, is DeYoung's first book, "Skyway: The True Story of Tampa's Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down" (University Press of Florida, $24.95).
The author will discuss how "Skyway" came to be at two Friends of the Library events at 1 p.m. today at the Tower Road Branch Library, and 3 p.m. Sunday at Headquarters Library.
"I knew I would write some sort of book, but I thought it would be music-related," said DeYoung, a nationally recognized journalist who has covered music at several Florida newspapers, including The Gainesville Sun, for some 30 years.
"This came out of left field. I read different accounts of what happened, and the details — some big details — differed. As a journalist, I wondered which (story) was true."
An article two years after the accident attempted to revisit the tragedy, but no one had ever written an in-depth story of what occurred on May 9, 1980, when a 600-foot freighter collided with a support pier causing the bridge to collapse 150 feet into Tampa Bay. Seven cars and a Greyhound bus fell into the water below.
The book weaves together personal interviews and extensive research to reconstruct how Florida's mightiest bridge was built and then destroyed, and how the horrendous accident effectively cast a pall over the life of harbor pilot John Lerro.
DeYoung recalls how, nine months into his research, a friend's comment drove home the need for a detailed account of the events of that day, including the story of the harbor pilot, who was cleared by federal investigators of wrongdoing.
"(My friend) remembered this story, and he said, 'He was a drunk, wasn't he?'
"That was a pivotal moment when I said, 'I have to tell this man's story,' " DeYoung said. "(Lerro) never forgave himself. Until the day he died, he blamed himself."
The Tampa Bay Times shared archive photos of the event for the book, and DeYoung pored over transcripts of court documents and anniversary stories of the collision in his research.
Over time, he also was able to gain the trust of Lerro's friends and family members, including Lerro's son, Chance, who was 13 at the time of the accident.
"Lerro was made a scapegoat, and (he was seen) as a villain, and he wasn't," said DeYoung, 55, who works for the alternative weekly, Connect Savannah. "It took time for (his family and friends) to accept that I just wanted to tell a story."
What emerges is a story DeYoung hopes will put to rest questions of how and why an accident so devastating occurred in the first place. A personal note of satisfaction, he said, is knowing "Skyway" provides readers with a more accurate history of what happened — a retelling that may not have benefited Lerro, who died in 2002.
"It's tragic, but that's the way history goes sometimes," DeYoung said.• billdeyoung.com
05.05.15, wusf.usf.edu, Florida Matters: Sunshine Skyway Bridge Disaster 35 Years Later.
It was Friday, May 9, 1980 at 7:33 a.m. when the freighter Summit Venture rammed into the Sunshine Skyway Bridge during a severe storm. The roadway above crashed into the waters of Tampa Bay. Though the blinding rain, drivers in the southbound lanes were unable to see the missing roadway ahead. Six cars, a truck, and a Greyhound Bus plunged into the waters below, and 35 people were killed.
12.28.16, wlrn.org, The Collapse of Florida’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge
On today’s Topical Currents, we recount the terrible events which caused the collapse of Florida’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Writer and editor Bill DeYoung, has researched events for the book, SKYWAY: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge, and the Man Who Brought It Down.
Thirty-five people lost their lives on May 9th, 1980, when a 20-thousand-ton vessel rammed a support pier. (It shouldn’t have happened.)
|the disaster memorial|
01.31.14, tampabay.com, opinion: Bay area needs 'Summit Venture' memorial.
On Jan. 28, the U.S. Coast Guard held a ceremony in the rest area at the north end of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to honor the 23 crewmen who perished in the 1980 sinking of the cutter Blackthorn in the area near the shipping channel. Dedicated in 1981, the Coast Guard's 8-foot granite monument is a thing of solemn beauty.
Why is there not a similar memorial to honor the 35 private citizens lost on May 9, 1980, when the freighter Summit Venture took down 1,300 feet of the Skyway in a violent squall?
As a St. Petersburg native, and the author of Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay's Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought It Down, I have been trying for nearly a year to jump through whatever bureaucratic hoops are necessary to right this egregious wrong. The Florida Department of Transportation, the custodian of the rest area (known as Blackthorn Memorial Park), took six months to discuss my proposal, only to tell me in the end that it could not be done without an act of the Legislature.
My repeated requests for assistance were ignored by U.S. Rep. Bill Young, state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, and former governor and senator Bob Graham (who, ironically, was interviewed extensively for my book).
The Summit Venture disaster remains the worst ship/bridge collision in American history. And, as many of your readers will remember, perhaps the darkest moment the Tampa Bay area has ever known.
To my knowledge, there is not a single public mention of the tragedy anywhere in Pinellas or Manatee counties. I can only surmise that the state of Florida is trying to pretend it never happened.
Bill DeYoung, Savannah, Ga. • billdeyoung.com • facebook.com/skywaythebook
(they name and erect signage dedicating the bridge to some undeserving politician, but have no desire to dedicate a memorial to the dozens that flew off the same structure his bloated government was in charge of protecting. looks like it's up to you to do it on your own. side note: mr. deyoung has an admirable collection of musician interviews and stories on his website that are worth a look.)
12.01.14, tampabay.com, Author behind memorial for victims of Sunshine skyway disaster.
12.01.14, abcactionnews.com, Author plans a memorial for Skyway Bridge disaster victims by next year.
01.18.15, heraldtribune.com, By Chris Anderson
BRADENTON - Mel Russell lived a hardscrabble life, and by 1980 he was separated from his wife, drinking a lot and staying in Room 338 of the Wilson Avenue Club for Men, a dingy hostel in a seedy section of Chicago.
Julie Russell loved him anyway. She was living with her sister in north Sarasota, and one night she called her estranged husband to say their son had been bitten by a rat and she feared it was rabid.
Mel Russell was so concerned that he scrounged up $125 for a bus ticket and this thrilled Julie as she was hoping the couple could reconcile and live in Sarasota with their son.
On the morning of May 9, 1980, when Greyhound No. 4508 was expected to arrive in town, she was at the bus station eagerly awaiting him until a coin-operated television blared out something so shocking that she would eventually be found living in an abandoned warehouse because of it.
Her husband was not coming back to her. A 600-foot freighter had struck the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, plunging the bus, six cars and one pickup into Tampa Bay. All told, the lives of 35 people ended, some with little-known ties to this area.
It will be 35 years this May, and after all this time there really has been nothing to memorialize those who perished. Bill DeYoung, a St. Petersburg author of a book on the disaster, plans to change that.
DeYoung is director of a non-profit raising money for a granite memorial for the victims. It will be placed near the southbound rest stop of the bridge. In 2014 the Florida legislature passed a bill allowing the memorial, and DeYoung is now trying to raise $8,000.
“I'm just appalled nothing's ever been done,” he says. “There's nothing to say this ever happened. This was the darkest day in Tampa Bay history, no question, but you couldn't find out about it, and to realize 35 innocent people lost their lives it's almost as if it never happened.”
It will be a simple monument, he says, with the names of the victims on it, but the names will not tell the full story of those with area connections and the twists of fate that led them to their deaths.
Many of the details about the area connections were provided in a book published shortly after the disaster called “Bridge Down.” It was written by the late George Mair.
A Georgia man named Woodrow Triplett was aboard the bus and on his way to Sarasota, just like Mel Russell, only he was running from the law for check forgery. He boarded near Bainbridge, Georgia, with his girlfriend Sandra Davis, and they bought their tickets using the aliases Alvin and Barbara Stone. They planned to start a new life in the area.
Tawanna McClendon had sickle cell anemia and was studying to be a nurse at a community college in Tallahassee. She was on the bus, heading to Palmetto for Mother's Day, dying horrifically just miles from home.
Gerta Hedquist of Punta Gorda was the oldest victim at age 92. She had chronic arthritis, and just weeks before the accident a doctor had cleared her to travel to her native Sweden for the last time in her life.
Jim Pryor lived in Seminole but was a manager at Key Manufacturing in Bradenton. He drove over the bridge each day in his El Camino. On May 9, he was on his way to Bradenton when he realized he did not set out his trash cans and he returned home to do it. Had he just kept driving he would have lived.
There was actually someone who went off the bridge in his pickup truck and survived. His name was Wes MacIntire from Gulf Port and he never overcame the guilt of being the lone survivor. He was on his way to work at Palmetto Meat Dispatch that day. He formerly worked at Tropicana in Bradenton, training truck drivers, DeYoung says.
And as with any tragedy of such magnitude, there were also those who narrowly escaped death. Betty McCoy was one such person.
She just made it over the bridge that morning. She was on her way to Moody Elementary in Bradenton, where she had worked for 11 years.
She arrived at Moody not knowing what happened and when she got out of her car she had no idea why people were running up to her and hugging her with tears in their eyes.
“There should be something to remember it by,” DeYoung says. “This was a really big day in Florida history, not a great day, but we should never forget it.”
01.31.15, bradenton.com, 35 who died when Skyway Bridge collapsed to be memorialized.
01.31.15, tbo.com, Victims of 1980 Skyway disaster to be memorialized.
02.03.15, baynews9.com, Man raising money for Sunshine Skyway Bridge memorial.
stats: 6 feet high, 3 feet wide, 2300 pounds.
05.09.15, tbo.com, Memorial’s dedication recalls Skyway tragedy in May 1980.
BY JOSH BOATWRIGHT, Tribune staff
ST. PETERSBURG — In Tuskegee, Alabama, two college buddies boarded a bus bound for Florida.
In Tallahassee, a young mother and her baby girl joined the bus route headed south toward Fort Lauderdale.
That same morning, a father told his family goodbye before riding off on his usual peaceful commute across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
All of them were crossing over Tampa Bay during the sudden, violent storm on May 9, 1980, when a freighter ship rocked by rough seas collided with the bridge, knocking out the center of the southbound span.
A Greyhound passenger bus fell off the broken structure and plunged 150 feet along with six cars and a pickup truck.
Only one person survived.
Names of the 35 who died now are memorialized in a granite monument funded by private donations in an effort organized by local author Bill DeYoung, who documented his community’s tragedy in a book.
The bay waters were placid Saturday at a roadside park within sight of the taller bridge that replaced the old Skyway.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Even after 35 years, the families of those who perished remain haunted by that dark day.
Charles McGarrah’s future wife told him something strange when they met — at a table in the lobby of Florida State University’s DeGraff Hall.
“She said, and I repeat, ‘My name is Wanda Smith and I will not live to see my 25th birthday,’ ” McGarrah said.
His newfound love also vowed never to marry or have children. The pain of her sisters’ divorces was too severe and the world too full of hate to bring a baby into it.
The couple overcame those fears and had a baby girl, Manesha. A few months later, in May, mother and daughter planned to ride from Tallahassee to Fort Lauderdale for grandmother’s birthday.
Before this, Wanda had nightmares of falling with people surrounding her.
“I wish you were coming with us,” she told her husband. “Not, ‘I wish you were coming to Fort Lauderdale because of my mother,’ but ‘I wish you were coming with us,’ ” McGarrah said.
It was too late to get a bus ticket.
Later that evening, McGarrah heard buzz on the news about a bus falling off the Skyway Bridge, a familiar spot for the St. Petersburg native, but he didn’t think it could be that one.
When a family member from Fort Lauderdale called to let him know Wanda and Manesha had not arrived, he turned on the television again and saw a Greyhound being pulled from the bay waters.
“I knew in my heart that they were on that bus. No confirmation, but in my heart, I knew,” he said.
Wanda would appear to him in dreams, before her funeral, urging him to read the last poem he wrote for her rather than stay silent.
He remembered her admonition that he should remarry, should something happen to her, but he should never compare her to another.
McGarrah did as she asked, but memories from his young marriage were fresh on his mind Saturday as he read from a poem he wrote shortly after the tragedy.
“How can we see and yet not feel the intensity of our worth in life and know that God is forever by our side strengthening us through each change that life may bring to us?” he said.
Tammie Pryor King says her father was content raising a family, meticulously grooming his tropical Florida yard – even vacuuming the rocks in the flower beds – and driving to work each day in his Chevy El Camino.
“One morning I remember saying to him, ‘Dad, aren’t you afraid or don’t you tired of going over the Skyway bridge?” King recounted.
“He said, ‘Never.’ He said, ‘It’s the most peaceful time of day for me. I love watching the sun rise as I’m crossing the bay and sometimes, if I work late, I get to watch the sun set.”
When Tammie and her husband heard about the Summit Venture freighter hitting the bridge, they jumped in the car and headed for the site, half expecting to see her father helping to rescue crash victims.
“My heart sunk when I found my dad’s briefcase. I opened it up and he had joke books and a Bible, but I was still hopeful he survived,” she said.
By that night, the rescue had turned to a recovery and she knew.
King told Saturday’s audience, which included many of her father’s 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, not to be afraid of crossing the bridge.
“When you drive over the Skyway bridge, don’t drive over with fear. Look down at the water like I do to the west going south, where he went down, and remember my dad, James Aaron Pryor, and know that he was at peace when his life ended,” King said.
The rain had been coming down in sheets since they crossed the line from Alabama into Florida, and it continued at a stop in Tallahassee. Lots of students from Tuskegee were on the bus.
Lynwood Armstrong got off the Greyhound in Tampa, leaving his buddy, John Callaway Jr., to make the rest of the trip down to Miami.
He heard about an accident on the bridge and called Callaway’s parents, but they couldn’t get any information.
“A few hours later, I watched them pull that bus out of the water and I knew right then that was the bus I was on,” Armstrong said.
Today, he said, he can still hear Callaway’s mother screaming on the phone.
Armstrong would remain close to his friend’s mother and now late father through the years. He says they nurtured his faith, assuring him that even this tragedy was in God’s hands.
“I can’t wait till that day to see him and his father at the Pearly Gates,” he said.
Belinda Jackson entered her teenage years without a mother.
Her recollections of the day her mom died aren’t as vivid as thoughts of how she has missed meeting Jackson’s three children and a grandchild.
Jackson’s family wore T-shirts Saturday with a portrait of Sandra Davis.
Davis’ children have struggled for years with depression, anxiety and feelings of anger, but mostly with loneliness.
“I wish I could tell her she’s rich in grandchildren,” Jackson said.
Decades after the loss, though, Jackson says the memorial to her mother and the other victims, the stories of others who also have lost and overcome, finally have given her heartbroken family a measure of closure.
“Words cannot explain. Words cannot explain,” she said.
She thanked DeYoung, the author who helped organize the monument, then Jackson turned back to the audience, many of them sweating in the late-morning sun.
There was hardly a breeze on the bay.
“We don’t know the time, the hour, the minute when it will be the last,” she said.
(comments follow article.)
05.09.15, abcactionnews.com, Memorial unveiled for Skyway Bridge Disaster
TAMPA, Fla - It has been 35-years since the freighter, Summit Venture, in a severe storm veered off course and crashed into the old Skyway Bridge.
35 people were killed in the accident when a section of the bridge collapsed, falling into Tampa Bay.
This morning, a new six-foot granite memorial was unveiled during a public ceremony next to Blackthorn Memorial Park.
opinion: Wesley MacIntire deserves a mention on this plaque, as he too was a victim of the accident. his only failing is that he was the lone survivor. his truck dropped with the bridge, bounced off the ship, and fell into the bay. he barely escaped drowning and was haunted by the experience until his death on 10.14.89. while "SIX CARS AND A PASSENGER BUS FELL 150 FEET INTO THE BAY" is displayed, no mention of him and his truck doing exactly the same thing is shown. perhaps an 'in remembrance' section below the 'in memoriam' would be appropriate. we cobbled together this recommended version:
|documentary plans: skywaybridgedisaster.com • facebook.com|
11.22.18: baynews9.com, Filmmaker Turns Sunshine Skyway Bridge Crash into Documentary,
TAMPA, Fla. — On Friday, May 9, 1980, the freighter Summit Venture, blinded by a storm, collided with the southbound extension of the Skyway Bridge.
The result caused a 1,200 foot span of the bridge to collapse into Tampa Bay eventually, taking the lives of 35 people travelling across the bridge.
Now, nearly 39 years later, producers are turning on of the worst disasters in the Tampa Bay area history into a documentary.
“We're telling the story through (the eyes of the captain’s lawyer Steve Yerrid), and of course all the people that were involved, from the state attorneys who investigated it, (and) other state legislators that were a part of building a new bridge,” said producer and director Kenny Alfonso.
A native of Tampa, Alfonso says he not only remembers the day of the tragedy, but he also remembers how the freighter’s captain John Lerro was treated in the aftermath.
“It tortured him,” Alfonso said. “Even though he was exonerated … you think how could you live with that? I don't know how I could have.”
Former Gov. Bob Graham oversaw the construction of the new Skyway Bridge that carries his name is taking part in the documentary. He hopes it serves as a reminder of lessons learned the hard way.
“Thirty-five people lost their lives,” Graham said. “Hundreds of thousands of people had their lives disrupted, but out of that tragedy, Tampa Bay got one of the great bridges of the world.”
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