Survivor of Queen Isabella Causeway collapse recalls disaster - Brownsville Herald: News

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Survivor of Queen Isabella Causeway collapse recalls disaster

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Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 12:00 am

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Ten years after a barge struck the Queen Isabella Causeway, Gustavo Morales wonders why God helped him escape from his submerged pickup truck while eight others died after their cars plunged from the bridge.

Thursday, Morales and survivors Brigette Goza and Rene Mata will join the victims’ families in a 10 a.m. cere-mony near the causeway’s South Padre Island entrance to remember those who died after that barge slammed into the causeway about 3 a.m. Sept. 15, 2001, causing a section of the bridge to collapse.

“We want to honor the victims and their families and express our gratitude for the survivors and the fishermen who rescued them,” Sandy Colwell, an organizer of the event, said.

Killed were Robert “Bob” Harris, Hector Martinez Jr., “Harpoon” Barry Welch and Chelsea Welch, all of Port Isabel; Julio Mireles of Los Fresnos; Robin Leavell of Mercedes; Gaspar S. Hinojosa of Kingsville; and Stvan Francisco Rivas of Humble.

“Why me?” Morales, 46, asked Tuesday. “Why them? Why the other survivors? It could have been me.”

Roland Moya said he was fishing on a boat with his brother, his cousin and his brother-in-law when they saw a barge head toward the bridge.

“We saw the barge coming at an angle,” said Moya, who works in the insurance business. “We knew it was going to be a tight squeeze.”

Then the barge struck the causeway, knocking a 140-foot span of concrete into the bay, Moya said.

“We heard what we thought was thunder,” Moya said. “We just saw white — a humongous splash of water.”

Then he saw the cars drive off the bridge, Moya said.

“We saw every car fall into the water,” Moya said. “You’d see the tail lights turn on at mid-air and the engine roar like they were panicking.”

Then the cars hit the water, he said.

“It literally sounded like a huge balloon popping,” Moya said. “We witnessed cars pancaking on one another.”

First, they saved Goza, then Morales and finally Mata, who wanted to dive into the water to try to save Leavell, his girlfriend who was a passenger in his car, but his injuries stopped him, Moya said.

Gaspar Hinojosa, 52, finally pulled himself out of his car about an hour after it struck a pillar, said his son Gaspar Hinojosa II. The father died en route to a hospital, a relative said.

Thursday, Hinojosa, now 30, will say the benediction at the close of the ceremony.

“He fought to live,” the younger Hinojosa said. He added that his father’s struggle to survive led him to become a minister. “That inspired me.”

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