TAMPA, Fla. (WWSB) - For thousands of Suncoast residents, the daily commute across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and being 430 feet above the waters of Tampa Bay is considered a beautiful thing.
With that being said, there was an infamous incident that occurred 40 years ago on this day and it may give you pause the next time you cross it.
On May 9, 1980, during a driving rainstorm, a freighter crashed into the support columns of the southbound bridge. This caused 1200 feet of the suspended roadway to fall and disappear right into the bay.
We’re told that rush-hour motorists who saw the collapse leaped from their cars in the rain to try and warn those behind them, and at least one screamed on the C-B Radio to stop because the bridge was gone.
That’s when three cars, one pick-up truck and a Greyhound bus that was carrying 22 passengers drove past those motorists and toppled off the ragged end of the interstate.
The tragedy claimed the lives of 35 people and only the driver of the pick-up truck survived.
The Skyway Bridge Disaster documentary from Gables & Clark on Vimeo is available to watch now.
You can view the trailer below.
Copyright 2020 WWSB. All rights reserved.
40 years later: Skyway Bridge disaster remembered in documentary
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 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.Sours: https://www.wfla.com/news/local-news/40-years-later-skyway-bridge-disaster-remembered-in-documentary/
The Skyway Bridge Disaster Documentary
The Skway Bridge Disaster documentary follows the events of what happened after harbor pilot Captain John Lerro struck the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Stream Online Now $3.99
On May 9, 1980, America witnessed one of the most stunning tragedies in maritime history when the M/V Summit Venture, a massive 608’ bulk freighter, collided with one of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge’s support columns. More than 1,200 feet of the bridge crumbled into Tampa Bay, and 35 people plunged to their deaths in the turbulent and unforgiving waters below.
Captain John Lerro was the 37-year old harbor pilot responsible for guiding the Summit Venture along one of the longest and most treacherous shipping channels in the world. The Bay’s narrow and restrictive channels required a turn less than a mile from the mammoth bridge. A rogue storm racing across the Gulf that morning brought with it driving horizontal rain, hurricane force winds, and near zero-visibility. Wind gusts in excess of 80 miles per hour engulfed first the ship and then the bridge as well, resulting in a deadly combination.
From that day forward, the journey of Captain Lerro and Steve Yerrid, the young trial lawyer who came to represent him, was one of courtroom drama, heartbreaking struggle, hard-earned redemption, and the extraordinary bond of friendship that developed between a condemned client and his devoted lawyer.
40 years later, Frankie VanDeBoe and Steve Yerrid present a new documentary The Skyway Bridge Disaster relives that unforgettable day and its aftermath, taking viewers onto the bridge, inside the ship and into the courtroom through the experiences of the people involved, local leaders, and Yerrid himself.
Watch the documentary online via Gumroad
See more at IMDbPro
About The Skyway Bridge Disaster Documentary On May 9, 1980, America witnessed one of the most stunning tragedies in maritime history when the M/V Summit Venture, a massive 608' bulk freighter, collided with one of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge's support columns. More than 1,200 feet of the bridge crumbled into Tampa Bay, and 35 people plunged to their deaths in the turbulent and unforgiving waters below. Captain John Lerro was the 37-year old harbor pilot responsible for guiding the Summit Venture along one of the longest and most treacherous shipping channels in the world. The Bay's narrow and restrictive channels required a turn less than a mile from the mammoth bridge. A rogue storm racing across the Gulf that morning brought with it driving horizontal rain, hurricane force winds, and near zero-visibility. Wind gusts in excess of 80 miles per hour engulfed first the ship and then the bridge as well, resulting in a deadly combination. From that day forward, the journey of Captain Lerro and Steve Yerrid, the young trial lawyer who came to represent him, was one of courtroom drama, heartbreaking struggle, hard-earned redemption, and the extraordinary bond of friendship that developed between a condemned client and his devoted lawyer. 40 years later, Frankie VanDeBoe and Steve Yerrid present a new documentary The Skyway Bridge Disaster relives that unforgettable day and its aftermath, taking viewers onto the bridge, inside the ship and into the courtroom through the experiences of the people involved, local leaders, and Yerrid himself. —Steve Yerrid
the skyway bridge disastersunshine skyway bridgejohn lerro documentarysteve yerrid documentary
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Documentary On Sunshine Skyway Disaster Revisits Tragedy, Trial
A documentary about the 1980 Sunshine Skyway disaster has been released for on-demand audiences as the tragedy reaches its 40th anniversary.
It was a rainy Friday morning when the cargo ship M/V Summit Venture collided with a support beam on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on May 9, 1980.
The storm was so severe that motorists couldn’t see the section of roadway that had collapsed. Six cars, a truck and a Greyhound bus plummeted 150 feet into Tampa Bay.
35 people were killed. The truck deflected off the ship and sank, but the driver was able to swim to safety, becoming the only survivor.
“The Skyway Bridge Disaster” was produced by businessman Frankie VanDeBoe and Steve Yerrid, the attorney who represented the Summit Venture’s harbor pilot, Captain John Lerro. The movie recounts the events leading up to and following the bridge collapse and civil court case against Lerro.
They originally talked with WUSF in 2019, when the movie premiered at the Tampa Theatre. It now is available on Amazon Prime video.
“For the first time, the public will not only get a view of the story, which is much deeper than a tragic collapse of a bridge, but a true look at a story that has had a profound societal impact across the country and across the world,” said Yerrid.
Yerrid added that the focus of the documentary extends further than the tragedy or the courtroom drama - he believes it’s about the impact that the disaster had on future infrastructure development.
“Bridges that were designed before this one, very few of them had the sophisticated fendering, bumper systems and equipment that is placed on this new bridge,” said Yerrid.
Twenty-two years after the disaster, Lerro passed away after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. He was 59 years old.
Proceeds from the premiere screenings will benefit pediatric cancer treatment and research, including the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, 1-Voice Foundation, Children’s Cancer Center and Moffitt Cancer Center.
Both screenings this weekend are sold out, but Yerrid and VanDeBoe say there might be additional ones in the future. They’re also considering streaming the documentary as well as entering the movie in film festivals around the world.
“We’re going to see where this movie can go,” said Yerrid. “We’re keeping all of our options open.”
(Editor's note: This story was updated on May 7, 2020 to reflect new information about the documentary.)
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