SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A witness to the Queen Isabela Causeway collapse and a documentary filmmaker is bringing details about the story of the collapse to light through film; the film is currently touring film festivals and has won numerous awards.
Just as the United States was beginning to comprehend the tragedy of 9/11, the Rio Grande Valley and the communities of Port Isabel and South Padre Island suffered another blow, just 4 days later.
On September 15, 2001, a portion of the Queen Isabella Causeway, that connects South Padre Island to the mainland, collapsed after a barge struck a supporting pillar.
11 drivers plummeted off the bridge into the Laguna Madre water around 2 a.m.; eight people did not survive.
The survivors, Gustavo Morales, Brigette Goza, and Rene Mata, were rescued by four fishermen, Robert Espericueta, Tony Salinas, Roland Moya, and Leroy Moya, who were on the water that night.
Earlier this year, Espericueta and McAllen podcaster and documentary filmmaker, Joshua Moroles, partnered to share Espericueta’s accounts of that night on Moroles’s podcast.
“I’ve been telling this story to friends and family for the last 20 years, and it’s very evident…[that] it impacts people who, one, had no idea, and two, those who thought they knew it all about that night,” Espericueta said. “I’ve always had the inclination to tell this story whether it was in a book format or a movie or a docuseries.”
The first episode of the podcast where Espericueta describes in detail what he experienced on the water the night of the collapse was released on Youtube and Spotify in February 2021, and, according to Moroles, has since been listened to 100,000 times and reached a million people.
The podcast evolved week by week, diving deeper into the story with details shared by others who were also involved with the examination of legal documents following the collapse. So far, Gustavo Morales is the only of the three survivors who agreed to come on the podcast.
Two months ago, Espericueta and Moroles began co-writing and directing a documentary about the causeway collapse. The documentary has been submitted to various film festivals.
“The documentary is done; there are still a few tweaks that we want to do for South by Southwest, but it’s done [and] it’s won awards,” Moroles said. “This is our first time doing this stuff, and we’re super excited about it; we want to share it with everybody.”
The documentary has won Best Feature Documentary at the New York Movie Awards and Silver Award Feature Documentary at the Hollywood Gold Awards, amongst others.
Moroles said the documentary presents the same information as the podcast but adds additional characters like Gaige Davila, Editor of the Port Isabel South Padre Press, who assisted in the fact-checking in the documentary.
“When you hear the story from Robert and the three other people he was there with that night and from the survivors themselves… you get this clear indication that no matter how many official documents there may be available, it does not tell the complete story,” Davila said. “[This] is why a documentary and a podcast allows people to speak and contextualize, through language and through body language, that story that has up until this point never been told.”
It is not yet known when the documentary will be screened in the Rio Grande Valley. Moroles and Espericueta are hoping to later produce a five-part docuseries about the causeway collapse.
In remembrance of the event, boat owners are invited to meet on the West side of the Laguna Madre to blare their horns at 9:15 a.m. on September 15.