“It was traumatizing”: Fisherman recalls experience from the night of causeway collapse

Local News

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (ValleyCentral) — One fisherman recalls the night of September 15, 2001, when the causeway connecting South Padre Island to the mainland partially collapsed.

Four days after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, Robert Espericueta was looking for a sense of normalcy and so, he decided to go night fishing with his cousin and two friends.

Espericueta told ValleyCentral he and his friends had tied their boat to the exact pillar of the bridge before it collapsed, but because they hadn’t caught any fish, they decided to pack it up and anchor elsewhere.

The lights on the bridge were off and so were the navigation lights underneath, “it was pitch black out.”

Moments after leaving the area under the bridge is when Espericueta heard a loud, crashing noise but he wasn’t sure where it had come from.

Espericueta turned to look at the bridge to see what he thought was a downpour of rain. He soon realized it was the impact splash from a piece of the bridge hitting the water. A barge had struck the causeway sending Espericueta into panic as he thought this was another attack like the one on the Twin Towers.

“We don’t have Twin Towers here in South Texas. One of the largest things we have in Texas is in fact that bridge,” said Espericueta. “To see it come down and to having traveled safely over it my entire childhood, the only thing that made sense in my mind is that we were under attack.”

His initial thought was to flee and save the people he was on the boat with, but his cousin had asked everyone, “what if there are kids down there?”

Everyone on the boat, including Espericueta knew though that they needed to act fast and help as quickly as possible, according to Espericueta.

Immediately, everyone tried to empty the boat in an attempt to make room for possible survivors. They were able to safely pull three people out of the water: Rene Mata, Brigette Goza, and Gustavo Morales, Jr.

As traumatizing and scary as that night was, Espericuta said his adrenaline kicked in and all he could focus on was saving as many people as he could.

“The story invokes fear and panic but the truth of the matter is when things go down and things happen, what comes out of us is humanity and we’re all born with it. We all have it,” said Espericueta.

Nine cars fell into the water and eight people died. The victims of the collapse were identified as Bob Harris, Hector Martinez, Jr., Barry and Chelsea Welch, all of Port Isabel; Julio Mireles of Los Fresnos; Robin Leavell of Mercedes; Stvan Francisco Rivas of Humble and Gasper Hinojosa of Kingsville.

There was a ceremony on the water underneath where the bridge collapsed at 9 a.m. where boaters released rose petals and a wreath into the bay. There was also a collective horn blow to pay tribute to those victims.

A commemorative ceremony took place in honor of those who lost their lives took place at Memorial Park on the median between the eastward and westward lanes. There was an honor guard, invocation, and guest speakers.

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