40 years later: Skyway Bridge disaster remembered in documentary

Local News

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla (WFLA) – It was 40 years ago this week when a portion of the original Skyway Bridge fell over a hundred feet into Tampa Bay after being hit by a cargo ship.

After falling from the bridge, 35 people lost their lives and the ship’s captain faced a months-long court battle where he was eventually exonerated.

It became the tragedy that would define Florida’s west coast for decades.

Early in the morning of May 9, 1980, Capt. John Lerro was navigating the Summit Venture freighter through the 58.4-mile channel that leads to the Port of Tampa. A squall of grim weather caused Lerro’s radar to fail.

The Summit Venture fought 60 mile-per-hour winds along with blinding fog and rain as Lerro attempted to bring the cargo ship through the bridge’s pillars. But the winds had shifted and pushed the freighter into the bridge in the thick of rush hour.

Just under seven years later, the rebuilt bridge was reopened. It was larger than before at 29,040-feet long and 190 feet above the surface of the water.

But it wasn’t until April 18 of this year that a documentary was released, chronicling the tragedy and the guilt that followed Capt. John Lerro for the remainder of his life.

“If I had to summarize John Lerro – a good man in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Yerrid says in the documentary. “And it destroyed him.”

Lerro died in 2002 from complications of multiple sclerosis.

Yerrid admits thinking of that day still makes him emotional, all these years later.

“I’m so emotional because, well, I guess, I’ve tried not to think about it for 20 years, now 30, 40,” Yerrid said.

Yerrid told 8 On Your Side this is a story that needs to be told, and now, four decades later, the deeply emotional details and stark images are part of an Amazon documentary.

“I’m so proud of this story if it does nothing more than preserve memories and the archives and things we shouldn’t have done. It cost 35 lives to get decent bridges built all over the world.”

Steve says he’s been approached countless times in the last 40 years with countless requests to share the story and its historical data where 35 people lost their lives that fateful day and hopes this story reminds people just how precious life is and how quickly it can change – sometimes in a matter of seconds.

“What this film does is, it highlights the truth, the necessity to have courage, to have hope when others have lost it, that’s what I hope people take away from it, and that we did it for Floridians. For Floridians, by Floridians.”

These are the victims of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Disaster:

  • Duane Adderly, 21, of Miami
  • Alphonso Blidge, 22, of Miami
  • Myrtle Brown, 58, of St. Johns, Newfoundland
  • Willis Brown, 57, of St. Johns, Newfoundland
  • John Callaway Jr., 19, of Miami
  • John Carlson, 47, of Pinellas Park
  • Doris Carlson, 42, of Pinellas Park
  • Leslie Coleman Jr., 52, of St. Petersburg
  • Charles Collins, 40, of Tampa
  • Michael Curtin, 43, of Apollo Beach
  • Laverne Daniels, 20, of Miami
  • Sandra Davis, 34, of Boardman
  • Hildred Dietch, 73, of St. Petersburg
  • Harry Dietch, 68, of St. Petersburg
  • Sharon Dixon, 21, of Miami
  • Brenda Green, 19, of Miami
  • Robert Harding, 63, of Glens Falls, N.Y.
  • Gerda Hedquist, 92, of Charlotte Harbor
  • Aubrey Hudson, 62, of St. Johns, Newfoundland
  • Phyllis Hudson, 58, of St. Johns, Newfoundland
  • Louise Johnson, 59, of Cataula, Ga.
  • Yvonne Johnson, 22, of Perrine
  • Horace Lemons, 47, of Kings Mountain, N.C.
  • Lillian Loucks, 69, of Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Louis Lucas Jr., 62, of Dolomite, Ala.
  • Marguerite Mathison, 82, of St. Petersburg
  • Manesha McGarrah, 7 months, of Tallahassee
  • Wanda McGarrah, 24, of Tallahassee
  • Tawana McClendon, 20, of Palmetto
  • Ann Pondy, 57, of Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • James Pryor, 42, of Seminole
  • Melborne Russell, 38, of Chicago, Iill.
  • Delores Smith, 50, of Pennsville, N.J.
  • Robert Smith, 37, of Pennsville, N.J.
  • Woodrow Triplett, 33, of Sarasota

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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