A story never told: Podcast chronicles night of Causeway collapse

Tony Salinas (left), Robert Espericueta (middle) and Joshua Moroles (right) discuss the Queen Isabella Causeway collapse on Episode 6 of their ongoing podcast. Screengrab from YouTube.


By Gaige Davila

The Queen Isabella Causeway collapse is a story more recited than told. But a new podcast is seeking to tell the collapse’s story in more detail than ever before, from those who were there, nearly 20 years later. 

“The True Story of the Queen Isabella Causeway Collapse” podcast first debuted on YouTube on Feb. 11, hosted by Joshua Moroles and Robert Espericueta. 

The podcast is attempting to share multiple perspectives of the same day: Sept. 15, 2001, when eight people were killed after a tugboat carrying a barge collided with the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway. Three people, Rene Mata, Brigette Goza and Gustavo Morales, survived. 

Espericueta is one of four people (Roland Moya, Leroy Moya and Tony Salinas) who saved the three survivors of the Causeway collapse. Wanting to share his experience, Espericueta pitched the podcast to Moroles.

Moroles, founder of McAllen-based Alamo Digital Agency, was approached by Espericueta after the two met at the latter’s business, The House Club, a legal poker lounge in Edinburg.  

“(Robert) told me the story, and an hour and a half later, it was probably one of the best stories I have ever heard,” Moroles told the PRESS. “It’s so compelling.” 

After Moroles heard Espericueta’s story, the two sat down for the first few episodes of the podcast. The scope of the series extended greater than either had anticipated. 

“There’s more here, there’s a lot more here,” Moroles said. “So we just kept digging and digging and then more stuff came out, and then we started looking through legal documents. The amount of information, this story has so much depth in it.”

Espericueta initially wanted to write a book on his experience, but running his own business and having a family at home made the task unfeasible. But through the podcast, Espericueta said it’s the quickest way to reach people with a story he’s carried for nearly 20 years.

“It’s like when you’re carrying a backpack full of rocks, and nobody wants to help you carry that backpack,” Espericueta told the PRESS. “But if you shine the rocks up and you make them look really pretty and start handing them out, telling them, ‘hold this for me,’ or ‘take this with you,’ and you lighten that load, then the load becomes lesser and lesser.”

Coast Guard Cutter Mallett crewmembers and Department of Public Safety personnel survey the damage done to the Isabella Causeway near South Padre Island, Texas, September 15, 2001. USCG photo by CWO2 Robert Wyman

Moroles said the podcast’s intent is to show the more humanistic side of the Causeway collapse story, possibly unachievable from any other medium. 

“The podcast platform allows us to dive deep into what people think or how they do the things they do,” Moroles said. “I don’t think this (story) could be told in any other way in such detail.” 

While featuring first-person perspectives of Espericueta, Roland Moya, Salinas and Gaspar Hinojosa II, whose father was killed in the collapse, the podcast also examines court documents from the class action lawsuit against Brown Water Marine Service, the tugboat operator. 

Espericueta believes the documents he and Moroles are seeking will confirm the details he and others witnessed.

“It’s paperwork that both reaffirms the events of that evening and proves some of the things I believed I feel I witnessed that night that happened and weren’t figments of my imagination,” Espericueta said. “After 20 years of people telling you, ‘oh no, the lights were on (on the Causeway),’ and I know in my heart they weren’t.” 

Espericueta says all 536 of those court entries from Brown Water vs. et al are worth examining again.

“Everybody gets closure differently,” Espericueta said. “Some people need to be very analytical and technical and know precisely what happened and in what sequence to be able to wrap their minds around it.”

He continued, “We’re getting all the information together so that those who are meticulous and want to really know and that’s the way they seek their closure, they’ll have access to it without having to suffer looking for it.” 

The podcast has made its way through the Laguna Madre area, with local social media pages sharing and commenting on the series since Moroles’ first Facebook ad set purchase. 

Moroles is a digital marketer by trade, using his skills to spread the podcast as far as it has, growing its viewership consistently in the few weeks it’s been posted to YouTube. 

So far, the podcast has reached at least one hundred thousand people on Moroles’ Facebook page and another eighty to ninety thousand people on YouTube. Moroles initially purchased Facebook ad sets for the Rio Grande Valley. His next ad set will hit the entire state. 

Espericueta called the reception to the podcast a “breath of fresh air” after exhaling the story he’s carried with him for so long. 

“Years and years ago, it was a morbid, ugly story,” Espericueta said. “It was something that I was bitter about and it was something I was still hurting over. Giving it away like this, giving it to other people to understand and carry it with them is lightening my load.” 

On Moroles’ Facebook posts and YouTube videos, people are sharing their memories and stories in the comment sections, offering information and help in chronicling the Causeway collapse. 

Through the help of Celeste Lopez, Moroles has acquired affidavits and court documents that are featured on the podcast, something Espericueta says is indicative of the story’s impact.

“It’s evident to me that our intentions of going out and getting what the facts are has resonated well with people clear across the other side of the country, so much so that they’re going out of their way taking time out of their personal days and doing it for us,” Espericueta said. “If that’s not the universe conspiring, to really tell this story well, I don’t know what would be.”

Moroles is hoping to feature several guests on the podcasts, including the three survivors. Moroles said all three are welcome to join the podcast if they are willing to share their story.

“I know it’s such a traumatic experience, but I think hearing it from their point of view and also hearing everything else could give them closure and some type of therapy to let this go and put a chapter behind them and then move forward.” 

Capt. Stephen Ellis, and Capt. Darryl Stiers, owner and operator of Danny B Fishing Charters on South Padre Island, are upcoming guests on the podcast. Both captains were on the water the night the Causeway collapsed and later ferried people to and from Port Isabel and South Padre Island while the Causeway was being repaired. 

Currently, Moroles is trying to get the 911 calls made on the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 2001. Espericueta describes in the podcast that his attempts to tell dispatchers that the Causeway collapsed were dismissed as prank calls. 

Moroles says they plan to end the series this year, a week after the 20th anniversary of the Causeway collapse, leaving the podcast as a resource for anyone wanting to know the story.

Until then, Espericueta is unsure what could be revealed as the podcast continues and more documents are acquired. He believes, however, that the story is too important to not share at length. 

“Every tragic event deserves the truth, and I think that if we can shed light on it, it should not bring any negative impact twenty years later,” Espericueta said. “We have a long journey ahead of us. It’s not ripping off a Band-Aid. We’re going to do it gently and accurately as we can and try not to offend, hurt or muddy the waters, so to speak, in the process.” 

To watch the podcast, visit www.youtube.com/c/JoshuaMoroles/

Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.portisabelsouthpadre.com/2021/03/12/a-story-never-told-podcast-chronicles-night-of-causeway-collapse/

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