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40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: Ombligo
Date: May 09, 2020 05:06AM
It was 40 years ago today that disaster struck the Tampa Bay area when a 600-ft long ship, the Summit Venture, struck the southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway bridge. The bridge collapsed into waters of Tampa Bay taking 35 victims with it, including a Greyhound bus of passengers.

I had started a job as a photographer at the Bradenton Herald just a few weeks earlier. Other than a fatal car accident, my time was most spent working with the advertising department. As calls started coming in that morning about the accident, I was in a class at school but without even calling into the office I struck out for the bridge. I got as far as the toll booth where access had been restricted. I talked my way onto a fire truck and rode the rest of the way to the top of the northbound span and recall the sight of just emptiness where the sister span had been.

It’s funny but my most vivid recollection wasn’t of the scene, but of the steel nobs rising out of grating we were walking on - it hurt. Still, if you looked in one direction you could see the car of Richard Hornbuckle just inches from the edge, a drop of more than 100-feet. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but directly behind his car was the car belonging to the advertising rep I would have spent the day working with. He lived in St. Pete and commuted to Bradenton. He later told me that he had tried to wave the bus down, but it had sped past him, vanishing into the mist of that foggy morning.

From my spot of the bridge, I could look down and see the crumple steelwork that had once been the bridge frame. The freighter sitting nearby with a section of roadway draped across its bow.

Then looking at the sheer edge of the southern portion, I saw a lone man standing under an umbrella, dressed all in black reading. It took me a moment but then I realized it was a priest giving last rites. I raised my camera ad shot the photo. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that I had been the only one to have documented that moment.

I had originally planned to go to Disney World that weekend with friends. That didn’t happen - the next 48 hours were spent at the Skyway. It was my first big story.

I retired from newspapers in 2009, those 30 years spent entirely in the Tampa market. My career started on the southbound side of the Skyway in Bradenton and ended at the St. Petersburg Times on the Northside of the bridge.

I covered many news events in my career, both big and small. But that foggy Friday morning still looms large as the starting point of a career.



“No persons are more frequently wrong, than those who will not admit they are wrong.”
-- François de La Rochefoucauld
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: DP
Date: May 09, 2020 06:46AM
A career well lived, Om!





Disclaimer: This post is checked for correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Any attempts at humor are solely the responsibility of the author and bear no claim that any and all readers will approve or appreciate said attempt at humor.
My name is DP, and I approve this message.
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: stephen
Date: May 09, 2020 08:37AM
Thank you for sharing. The St. Pete Times has been a wonderful newspaper and I'm proud that you have been a part of it.
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: deckeda
Date: May 09, 2020 09:59AM
Ya know what? "Thank you for your service" is a phrase that easily applies to any such honorable journalistic career.

And your post-newsprint educational work only reinforces my opinion here.
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: p8712
Date: May 09, 2020 10:00AM
I was always terrified of the old skyway when I was a kid. I’m glad you had such a great career!
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: Ammo
Date: May 09, 2020 11:37AM
Great story! News photographers have always been essential workers.



Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. —Wendy Mass

Until you make your unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. - Carl Jung
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: hal
Date: May 09, 2020 12:20PM
not useless, but pics would enhance this thread!

great story. 40 years ago today, I was in my last month of high school and completely unconcerned with anything happening on the other side of the country. I don't think I ever heard of this until just now.
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: Acer
Date: May 09, 2020 12:41PM
2019 article memorializing the incident, with many photographs of the damage. SFW but still haunting.
[www.tampabay.com]
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: gabester
Date: May 09, 2020 01:08PM
@Ombligo - Thank you for sharing - I'd never heard this story before and your personal account of it is a fascinatingly tragic success.
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: wave rider
Date: May 09, 2020 01:09PM
Great story, fine career, thanks for sharing!



=wr=
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: MartyStickle
Date: May 09, 2020 03:14PM
Quote
Acer
2019 article memorializing the incident, with many photographs of the damage. SFW but still haunting.
[www.tampabay.com]

Paywall



Asheville, NC Area
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: JoeH
Date: May 09, 2020 03:25PM
Quote
MartyStickle
Quote
Acer
2019 article memorializing the incident, with many photographs of the damage. SFW but still haunting.
[www.tampabay.com]

Paywall

Leaky pay/adwall for me. The notice came up asking for login or allowing ads, but I was able to scroll all the way through the article and pictures.
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: hal
Date: May 09, 2020 03:30PM
a 'pay fence' perhaps :-)

A little surprised that the OP, with this great story, didn't post some pics taken that day. Great piece from the TB times though...
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: Ombligo
Date: May 09, 2020 05:46PM
Quote
hal
a 'pay fence' perhaps :-)

A little surprised that the OP, with this great story, didn't post some pics taken that day. Great piece from the TB times though...

Sorry, I have the negs from that day but no easy way to scan them in anymore. I looked online but saw nothing of mine to link to.



“No persons are more frequently wrong, than those who will not admit they are wrong.”
-- François de La Rochefoucauld
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: Rick-o
Date: May 09, 2020 06:01PM
What a tragedy! I must have heard about it at the time, but I surely don't recall it.

Ombligo, that really must have been something for you to experience at such a young age.



Mr. Lahey: A lot of people, don’t know how to drink. They drink against the grain of the liquor. And when you drink against the grain of the liquor? You lose.

Randy: What the @#$%& are you talking about?
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: sekker
Date: May 09, 2020 07:05PM
Thanks for sharing, true journalism is a dying art.
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: A-Polly
Date: May 09, 2020 11:00PM
Wow, what a way to begin your career!

None of the pictures in the linked article give a feeling of what it was like to drive over the remaining part of the bridge - dizzying and terrifying to look aside at the “ghost” span. Old Fogette
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: Ombligo
Date: May 10, 2020 05:59AM
just some bridge history --

The broken span was the newer of the two spans, it opened in 1971. After the collapse, the broken structure remained standing until finally demolished in 1993. The original span opened in 1954 and remained in use until 1987. The approaches to the old spans are now fishing piers (although there is now talk about closing those due to deterioration.)

Even today there has been discussion about replacing the current bridge due to it being too low. Larger cruise ships are not able to clear the 180' height.



“No persons are more frequently wrong, than those who will not admit they are wrong.”
-- François de La Rochefoucauld
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: Speedy
Date: May 10, 2020 07:26AM
Great story!



Saint Cloud, Minnesota, where the weather is wonderful even when it isn't.
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Re: 40 years - a bridge to a career
Posted by: neophyte
Date: May 10, 2020 09:40AM
What an interesting career you had! I remember that story in the Boston Globe. Four months later I moved to Lutz to attend graduate school at USF. I remember when the replacement bridge opened. It seemed very high at the time. It was also the more scenic route from Lutz to Sanibel via 275 over the bridge rather than 75 around Tampa Bay.
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