WEBBERS FALLS — Hundreds gathered Monday morning under the shadow of a memorial for victims of a the 2002 Interstate 40 bridge collapse.
With the reinforced bridge visible from the gathering site, many spoke of the events of the collapse, which claimed 14 lives.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of the May 26, 2002, disaster was the tow boat captain’s loss of consciousness.
A few survivors of the tragedy, along with several family members of the 14 victims, listened as former Webbers Falls Mayor Jewel Horne-Hall read the names of those who died when the bridge fell.
Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson was one of several who spoke to the assembled crowd. Pearson was part of the recovery effort in the days following the collapse.
“Ten years ago I was a brand-new sheriff,” he said. “I had never been tried before, not like that. It was the toughest thing we’ve ever done. I can’t remember anything tougher.”
Pearson said the event was meaningful to him.
“Today is real special for me, and a real hard time,” he said.
Pearson also thanked the Warner Police Department’s Dive Team, members of which were in the crowd. Pearson said those divers were the first people on the scene that day.
“That was a really tough deal; thanks for coming,” he said.
Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker also spoke at the ceremony. He choked up when referencing the ramifications of the tragedy.
“It was that perfect storm 10 years ago that took 14 lives,” he said. “But it created hundreds of heroes.”
Oklahoma Department of Transportation Engineer Darren Saliba said the cleanup and rebuilding of the bridge were difficult
“The 10 years went fast, but never have we ever forgot,” Saliba said. “It was the thought of those lost lives that kept us going.
“The experiences of that day we’ll carry with us, and I promise we will never forget.”
State Rep. Ed Cannaday, along with Pearson, read out a list of dozens of responders and recovery agencies and organizations that assisted in the aftermath of the collapse.
“If this is a long list, I don’t apologize, because there were that many people that helped,” Cannaday said to applause.
Saliba called the abutments on the bridge “soldiers.”
“They’re guarding that bridge,” he said.
Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or email@example.com.
Bridge collapse victims and survivors
• Andrew Clements, 35, of Woodbridge, Va.
• Jeanine Katherine Cawley, 48, of Lebanon, Ore.
• Margaret Green, 45, of Stockdale, Texas.
• Gail Shanahan, 49, of Corpus Christi, Texas.
• Misty Johnson, 28, of Lavaca, Ark.
• James Johnson, 30, of Lavaca, Ark.
• Shea Nicole Johnson, 3, of Lavaca, Ark.
• Wayne Martin, 49, of Norman.
• Susan Martin, 49, of Norman.
• Paul Tailele Jr., 39, of Magna, Utah.
• David Mueggenborg, 52, of Okarche.
• Jean Mueggenborg, 51, of Okarche.
• Jerry Gillion, 58, of Spiro.
• Patricia Gillion, 57, of Spiro.
• Max Alley, 67, of Broken Arrow.
• Goldie Alley, 68, of Broken Arrow.
• James Bilyeu, 62, of Conway, Ark.
• Rodney Tidwell, 37, of Ripley, Miss.
• Richard Cawley of Lebanon, Ore.