Man raising money for Sunshine Skyway Bridge memorial

By Cait McVey, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, February 04, 2015, 10:50 AM EST
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Standing on the nearby fishing piers, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a sight to behold. 

The cars and trucks passing over it look small in comparison and many drivers probably aren’t giving the water below a second thought.

Then again, those who were around 35 years ago may be flashing back to one of the biggest tragedies in Tampa Bay history.

It was May 9th, 1980 when the freighter Summit Venture hit the bridge and caused it to collapse, taking 35 lives with it.

“Those of us who lived here at the time and still live here think about it every time we go over the bridge,” said Bill De Young, who was just 21-years old when it happened.

DeYoung was at work that morning, in a St. Petersburg shopping plaza. 

“We closed the store and all walked down to JC Penny’s,” DeYoung recalled. “You know how they’d have 40 different TVs on a wall.  They all had the same local coverage.  Nobody could believe that this happened.”

Years later, DeYoung decided to write a book on the tragedy. While researching, he said something stood out to him.  It was the fact that a memorial had never been made for the 35 people who perished. So, he decided to take matters into his own hands. 

With the passage of Florida Senate Bill 820 last year, DeYoung won permission to begin fundraising and recently started a GoFundMe page for the project.  DeYoung has plans for a 6 foot tall granite stone with a bronze plaque on the front, listing the names of all the unsuspecting drivers and passengers who died when the bridge gave way.  

Among the vehicles that plummeted into the water was a Greyhound bus. DeYoung said 26 people were on board. Looking at a photograph from the scene, DeYoung said he thinks of those people often.

“There’s a 6-month-old baby on that bus with her mother.  There was a 92-year-old woman on that bus.  There were five students from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama going home for Mother’s Day,” DeYoung said. “And they all died. In two seconds.”  

DeYoung said a memorial will help commemorate them all and help make sure the Bay area never forgets.