20 years later, survivors and witnesses recall Queen Isabella Causeway collapse

Local News

HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Wednesday, Sept. 15 marks the 20th anniversary of the Queen Isabella Causeway collapse.

ValleyCentral spoke to one of the four fishermen and one of the three survivors out of the 11 people who went into the Laguna Madre during the partial collapse.

On the day of the collapse, fisherman and witness, Robert Espericueta said he remembered it was very dark the night he and three fishermen, Roland Moya, Leroy Moya, and Tony Salinas, took their boat out onto the Laguna Madre.

“The lights on the causeway were out that night. Normally we would’ve used them as a guide to get back home.” Espericueta said, “but they were out so we wound up just tying to the pillar.”

That pillar, Espericueta said, was attached to the Queen Isabella Causeway and would later be hit by a tugboat pushing four barges loaded with steel.  

“But before that happened, we moved north a little bit and shortly after that we heard the crash and saw the cars start to fall into Laguna Madre,” he said.

The sight of seeing cars plummet into the water was something Espericueta said he will never forget. 

“It was just a prolonged crashing sound; it just sounded like a scream,” said Espericueta.

One of the screams came from Gustavo Morales who was driving on the causeway after leaving work when he said he noticed lights from the bay caught his attention. 

“So I continued driving 5-10 seconds, maybe one minute after, and then I was flying in my pickup. I was driving a small pickup and I went off the bridge and sure enough, I was going down in the water.”

Morales adds that he remembers how quickly his car began to sink, ”my windows are manual. So I took off my seatbelt and then I rolled my window and that’s how I was able to get out of my car.”

Eleven people went into the water that night. Gustavo along with Brigette Goza, and Rene Mata would become the only three to survive the collapse. They were saved by Robert and his friends. 

Since the partial collapse occurred four days after 9/11, Gustavo said he along with everyone else on the boat thought it was another terrorist attack. 

“It was four days after 9/11, so we were in shock. Of course, everybody was in shock because of what happened four days before. At that point I believed it was another terrorist attack,” said Morales.

Now, after 20 years, Espericueta said by meeting filmmaker Joshua Moroles and helping him complete the documentary “The True Story of the Queen Isabella Causeway Collapse” he was finally able to speak out about what he witnessed.

“A lot of time has gone by and I feel closure. I guess there was an attachment, something I held on to for a long time,” said Espericueta.

Morales said after talking with Joshua about his story, he fell in love with it and felt compelled to share his and the survivors’ story. 

“There was a bigger story here and as Robert said it’s helping him heal and I know this can help a lot of people,” said Moroles. 

Gustavo said he feels that same relief as well as immense gratefulness since that day.

“I give thanks every single day because we don’t know exactly what is gonna happen,” said Gustavo. 

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