SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The conversations before and after Queen Isabella Causeway collapsed on Sept. 15, 2001 are still fresh on former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa’s mind 20 years later.
Hinojosa calls the conversations ‘eerie’ with then-South Padre Island Mayor Ed Cyganiewicz about the construction of a second causeway. “When I ask him [Cyganiewicz] why do we need another causeway? the causeway that we have is perfectly fine.'” said Hinojosa “his response was ‘what if a barge hits it?’ and I said ‘that’s never happened before.”
Just 48 hours, the hypothetical became a reality. At around 2 a.m. Hinojosa received a call the causeway had collapsed and feared it was another terror attack on U.S. soil.
Many locals on mainland Port Isabel and South Padre Island believed it was another attack until word spread a towboat captain rammed a support collum. Two portions of the causeway plunged into the Laguna Madre Bay as cars unknowingly drove off the bridge.
As the investigation continued into what happened, Hinojosa learned of fisherman in the area who heard the collapse and sprung into action. However, much like the conversation with Mayor Cyganiewicz, the fisherman had a premonition. Robert Espericueta and his friends weren’t having any luck on one side and were advised to go fish under the causeway, Hinojosa said, “they say to one another ‘what would you do if a car fell off the causeway?’… and shortly after that conversation, they hear a big boom and they see cars started falling.”
CBS 4 spoke with Espericuta and said as traumatizing and scary as that night was, his adrenaline kicked in and all he could focus on was saving as many people as he could.