Advertisement
  1. News

35 years later, a monument honors lives lost in Sunshine Skyway collapse (w/video)

Tthe Sunshine Skyway bridge wasstruck by the freighter Summit Venture in St. Petersburg on May 9, 1980. The freighter rammed the southbound span of the bridge, sending several cars and a Greyhound bus into the water. Thirty-five people died. [Times files (1980)]
Published May 10, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG

Charles McGarrah vividly remembers the day he met the woman who would become his wife — and her first words:

"My name is Wanda Smith, and I will not live to see my 25th birthday."

McGarrah was inclined to argue with her. But just six short years later, she died three months shy of her 25th birthday.

She and the couple's 7-month-old daughter, Ma­Nisha, died with 33 other people in a horrific accident that sent them plunging from the Sunshine Skyway when a freighter struck the bridge. On Saturday, 35 years to the day of the accident, a monument was dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives that day.

"My healing definitely starts today," said Belinda Jackson, who was 11 when her mother, Sandra Davis, died. "I will now have a feeling of closure, of remembrance, of peace."

The monument was the brainchild of Bill DeYoung, who was 21 at the time of the accident. DeYoung, of St. Petersburg, wrote a book about the disaster and then embarked on a fundraising venture to erect the monument.

The 6-foot-tall monument is at water's edge next to the Blackthorn Memorial Park on the northern side of the current Skyway. It overlooks the shipping channel in which the Summit Venture was traveling when it hit the Skyway on that rainy, windy and foggy morning of May 9, 1980.

The span collapsed, sending a Greyhound bus, six cars and a pickup into the bay. One man, Wesley MacIntire, survived when his blue pickup fell onto the ship before hitting the water. He managed to escape his vehicle and swim to the surface where he was rescued by the crew of the Summit Venture. The nine people in the cars and the 26 people on the bus all died.

McGarrah, who had put his wife and daughter on the bus the evening before in Tallahassee, heard news of the accident on his car radio. He wasn't concerned because he had been told the bus was headed to Fort Lauderdale via Jacksonville.

He said he thought, "Wow, that was a terrible accident. I didn't think anything more of it."

Later, when the phone rang at home, he thought it was his wife calling to say she and MaNisha had arrived safely at her mother's. But it wasn't. It was one of her sisters asking if Mrs. McGarrah had missed the bus because she had not arrived. McGarrah said he thought they were teasing him because he could hear laughter in the background.

He told them to let him talk to his wife, saying, "She's there. I know she's there."

When he realized his wife had not arrived, "my heart sank," he said. He made calls and soon received a call back from a law enforcement official who asked what his wife and daughter had been wearing. MaNisha, the officer said, had been found. She could be identified by the jumpsuit with the yellow sunflower and her braided hair with the pink ribbons that her father had dressed her in.

It took two weeks to find Mrs. McGarrah's body.

"My life was forever changed," McGarrah said. He said he "agonized" for years over his decision not to go with them on the trip.

But gradually, McGarrah said he healed and was able to go on with his life. But he never forgets, he said, and never will. For him, May 9 is as unforgettable as Dec. 7 is to an earlier generation.

Contact Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, accused of stabbing and killing John Travlos and Germana Morin aboard their houseboat in 2013, testified on his own behalf at his murder trial in Pinellas County this week. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    It took the jury about four hours to find Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria guilty. Next they must decide whether to send him to Florida’s death row.
  2. Harold Fritz, 75, was awarded the nation's highest and rarest honor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in 1969. The Army lieutenant saved his platoon during an ambush in the Vietnam war. He spoke to students at Farnell Middle School in Tampa. MARLENE SOKOL  |  Times
    Harold Fritz wanted to talk about teachers’ salaries and education. The kids wanted selfies with one of the 71 living recipients of the nation’s highest honor.
  3. PDQ's new Trinity location features a self-serve sauce bar with seven signature sauces perfect for dipping chicken tenders. Courtesy of PDQ
    Both chains are expanding locally and held grand opening celebrations this month with giveaways and free food.
  4. Casey Cane has resigned as chair of Pinellas County’s Housing Finance Authority in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times story about his failure to disclose an arrest for a financial felony when he was 19. He also serves as a Palm Harbor fire commissioner. Casey Cane
    Casey Cane failed to disclose his arrest for a financial felony in 2006. He said he didn’t think he had to reveal that information.
  5. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks to about 75 people Tuesday at a city conference on innovation and collaboration. (City of Tampa photo by Janelle McGregor) Janelle McGregor
    City Hall brought together startups and the nonprofits that nurture them for a discussion of possible ideas to improve city operations and service.
  6. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView, use ground-penetrating radar to scan a portion of King High School campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Preliminary answers from the ground-penetrating radar could come as soon as next week.
  7. A federal judge gas stayed the Nov. 7 execution of death row inmate James Dailey, 73, for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    Dailey was set to be put to death Nov. 7. A judge ordered his execution to be postponed to give his attorneys time to present their claims. But the state can appeal.
  8. Markeith Loyd, suspected of fatally shooting a Florida police officer, attends his initial court appearance Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at the Orange County Jail, in Orlando, Fla. Loyd spoke out of turn and was defiant during the appearance on charges of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend. He was injured during his arrest Tuesday night following a weeklong manhunt.
    The same jury found Loyd guilty last week of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting 24-year-old Sade Dixon outside her home in 2016.
  9. The new owner of a dilapidated mobile home park on Gandy Boulevard has sued the city of Tampa over a record-setting fine levied against the property for a massive tree removal in August. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    A Gandy Boulevard mobile home park owner is suing the city of Tampa over a record $420,000 fine .
  10. Dashboard camera video shows a Tampa police cruiser pursuing Dusharn Weems through a parking lot. A second later, Weems is fatally injured when the car strikes him. Courtesy Haydee Oropesa
    The family of Dusharn Weems, 23, claims an officer intentionally struck him after he was spotted driving a stolen car.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement