The True Story of Tampa Bay's Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought It Down
“Riveting. . . . A lively marriage of chronicle and storytelling.”—Oral History Review
"Bill DeYoung’s story of the construction of the original and second span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, of the accident in 1980 that destroyed it, and of John Lerro, the harbor pilot steering the Summit Venture that struck the bridge, is spellbinding and reads like a mystery."—Robert Kerstein, author of Key West on the Edge
"Bill DeYoung’s meticulous reconstruction of how Florida’s mightiest bridge was built and then destroyed is a compelling read, full of telling details and tragic irony."—Craig Pittman, author of The Scent of Scandal
On the morning of May 9, 1980, harbor pilot John Lerro was guiding a 600-foot freighter, the Summit Venture, into Tampa Bay. Directly in the ship’s path was the Sunshine Skyway Bridge--two ribbons of concrete, steel, and asphalt that crossed fifteen miles of open bay. Suddenly, a violent weather cell reduced visibility to zero at the precise moment when Lerro attempted to direct the 20,000-ton vessel underneath the bridge. Unable to stop or see where he was going, Lerro drove the ship into a support pier; the main span splintered and collapsed 150 feet into the bay. Seven cars and a Greyhound bus fell over the broken edge and into the churning water below. Thirty-five people died.
Skyway tells the entire story of this horrific event, from the circumstances that led up to it through the years-long legal proceedings that followed. Through personal interviews and extensive research, Bill DeYoung pieces together the harrowing moments of the collision, including the first-person accounts of witnesses and survivors.
Among those whose lives were changed forever was Wesley MacIntire, the motorist whose truck ricocheted off the hull of the Summit Venture and sank. Although he was the lone survivor, MacIntire, like Lerro, was emotionally scarred and remained haunted by the tragedy for the rest of his life. Similarly, DeYoung details the downward spiral of Lerro’s life, his vilification in the days and weeks that followed the accident, and his obsession with the tragedy well into his painful last years.
DeYoung also offers a history of the ill-fated bridge, from its construction in 1954, through the addition of a second parallel span in 1971, to its eventual replacement. He discusses the sinking of a Coast Guard cutter a mere three months before Skyway collapsed and the Department of Transportation’s dire warnings about the bridge’s condition. The result is a vividly detailed portrait of the rise and fall of a Florida landmark.
Bill DeYoung is a native of St. Petersburg, Florida. Nationally recognized for his music journalism, he was a writer and editor at various Florida newspapers for three decades.
- Sample Chapter(s):
- Table of Contents
“A well-paced narrative that parses history from tragedy.”
“Raw terror in book form… a chilling, informative and deeply engrossing narrative.”
--Ensuing Chapters (blog)
“Weaves together personal interviews and extensive research to reconstruct how Florida’s mightiest bridge was built then destroyed, and how the horrendous accident effectively cast a pall over the life of harbor pilot John Lerro”
--Ocala Star Banner
“DeYoung’s account of the accident from the perspective of the victims traveling on the bridge is riveting… Skyway is a fresh and vivid retelling of the disaster.”
--Florida Historical Quarterly
“A skillful combination of local history and biography.”
--Naples Florida Weekly
“An intimately detailed account of this disaster, its victims and the survivors, the legal aftermath, as well as a complete history of the bridge, old and new. His story reads like a novel.”
--The Florida Times-Union
DeYoung tells the most comprehensive story of the Skyway Bridge Disaster that anyone could ever hope to tell. The level of detail here is impressively intricate.
A meticulously reported, compellingly written and sometimes surprising account of the 1980 disaster.
--Tampa Bay Times
Entranc[ing]. . . . Allows readers to peek into the world of commercial boat captains. . .and empathize with the unreasonable challenges these men undertake as regularly as most of us boot up our computers in the morning.
--Creative Loafing Tampa Bay
An account of the bridge's conception in 1954, along with the events of that fateful day in 1980, the courtroom drama that followed and the building of the new, modern Sunshine Skyway Bridge. DeYoung uses electrifying details to illustrate the importance of the bridge and its significance in connecting Pinellas County to Manatee County and points south.
--Tampa Bay Magazine