Below, marketing intern Gabriel Vasquez-Peterson talks about the Skyway Bridge Memorial, its dedication ceremony, and the author who made the monument possible, Bill DeYoung.
The Skyway Bridge Memorial
by Gabriel Vasquez-Peterson
On May 9, 1980, the 20,000-ton freighter “Summit Venture,” its pilot blinded by a sudden violent weather cell, crashed into a support pier of Tampa’s Skyway Bridge. The ship hit the bridge’s second support pier, and 1300 feet of the bridge collapsed into the bay, 150 feet below. Of the 36 people on the bridge, only one survived. On May 9, 2015, the 35th anniversary of the disaster, a memorial was dedicated in memory of the victims. Located in Blackthorn Park, just north of today’s Skyway Bridge, the 6-foot monument is a simple testament made of granite with a plaque listing the names of the deceased.
Our author, Bill DeYoung, made that monument possible. While researching for his book, Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought It Down, DeYoung discovered something that shocked him. “I went looking for a memorial, a monument, or even a simple roadside sign that commemorated in some way the blackest day in Florida history. I found nothing.”
Believing that the victims deserved a memorial of some kind, DeYoung began a campaign that lasted two years and at last ended in the creation of the monument dedicated this past spring. Victims’ families flew from as far as California to attend the ceremony, where local figures and many members of the community gathered to speak about the day that still haunts them. The most poignant speakers, however, were those who lost friends and family members during the tragedy. Charles McGarrah, Tammie Pryor King, Lynnwood Armstrong, and Belinda Jackson all spoke about the loved ones they lost 35 years ago.
“My healing definitely starts today,” said Belinda Jackson at the ceremony. “I will now have a feeling of closure, of remembrance, of peace.”