WEBBERS FALLS, Okla. – It has been 16 years since the I-40 bridge collapse near Webbers Falls.
On May 26, 2002, a “a wayward tugboat on the Arkansas River near Webbers Falls slammed two barges into the bridge’s supports,” reports the Tulsa World. The incident resulted in a 600-foot section of the bridge to collapse, killing 14 people.
“You didn’t have time to think,” Goldie Alley, 78, told the Tulsa World in 2012. “A lot of people said, ‘I guess you prayed and got right with God.’ Let me tell you, you better be ready at all times. When something happens that fast, you’re trying to figure out what happened.”
Alley and her husband were traveling on I-40 that morning when their van dropped 60 feet, coming to a rest on broken pavement below. She suffered cracked ribs and bruises and her husband broke his back.
“Since then, I’m thankful that God spared my life,” Alley said. “But I look upon those other people and I hurt for them.”
After an investigation, it was determined by the National Transportation Safety Board that the tugboat pilot’s, William Joe Dedmon, heart condition caused him to black out while steering the boat.
The incident ended Dedmon’s career.
“He was very traumatized by the accident and the losses that occurred,” said Tulsa attorney Joel Wohlegemuth, who represented Dedmon.
Fishermen participating in a tournament on the Arkansas River shot flares to stop traffic and attempted to rescue people in the water.
The bridge lanes were reconnected and open to traffic in two months.