At Last, a Memorial for Those Lost in St. Petersburg’s Skyway Bridge Collapse
A memorial was dedicated Saturday (May 9), 35 years to the day that 35 lost their lives when the freighter Summit Venture hit the Sunshine Skyway.
ST. PETERSBURG – Saturday (May 9) was warm and sunny – a sharp contrast to the rainy, foggy and windy morning 35 years ago when a freighter hit the Sunshine Skyway, causing it to collapse and send 36 people plummeting into the water.
Of those, one survived. The other 35, ranging in ages from 7 months to 92 years, died.
For awhile, the tragedy was news. Then, it faded away. New bridges were built and about the only time many thought of it was on anniversaries when newspapers would do retrospectives. Then, along came Bill DeYoung, who was 21 at the time of the accident. He wrote a book and began a fundraising venture to erect a monument to those who were lost, to make sure they were never forgotten. On Saturday, 35 years to the day after the tragedy, the monument was dedicated in front of a standing room only crowd, many of whom lost loved ones that day.
The monument is on the northern side of the Skyway adjacent to the Blackthorn Memorial Park. At the water’s edge, it overlooks the channel where the Summit Venture was traveling as it approached the Skyway. It contains the names of all 35 who were lost that day and a depiction of what the Skyway looked like before it collapsed.
Belinda Jackson, who was 11 when her mother, Sandra Davis, died that day, said the memorial means she’ll be able to start healing. Jackson and her family wore T-shirts emblazoned with a picture of Mrs. Davis.
Charles McGarrah also displayed a picture – himself, his wife and his baby daughter. He had put his wife, Wanda Smith-McGarrah and MaNaisha on a Greyhound bus in Tallahassee the evening before. They were on their way to Fort Lauderdale to visit her mother for a surprise birthday party. It was a trip that McGarrah had, at first, nixed, saying they should postpone it for a better time. But his wife wanted to go, so he dressed MaNisha in a jumpsuit with a yellow sunflower, braided pink ribbons in her hair, and said goodbye to them. His wife’s last words to him were regret that he would not be going with them.
They were decisions he would grapple with for years after. And they are decisions he still remembers each year on the anniversary.
Now others will also remember.
For information about the tragedy, see skywaydisaster.com. For other stories, see “Remembering the Skyway Bridge disaster: ‘This is not explainable,'” at npr.org or “35 years later, a monument honors lives lost in Sunshine Skyway collapse” at tampabay.com.
Summit Venture | Sunshine Skyway | Skyway Bridge Collapse | Sunshine Skyway Memorial
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