By Gaige Davila
It’s been 20 years since a barge collided with the Queen Isabella Causeway, toppling a section of the bridge in the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 2001. Eleven people drove off the bridge into the created void. Eight died, three survived.
The City of South Padre Island will host a ceremony at the base of the Causeway next Wednesday, Sept. 15, at a memorial site behind the city’s welcome sign, dedicated to the 8 who died: 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 Gaspar Hinojosa of Kingsville.
Rene Mata, Brigette Goza and Gustavo Morales Jr. survived, saved by four fishermen who were on the water that night: Robert Espericuerta, Roland Moya, Leroy Moya and Tony Salinas.
“We would like to remember and honor the victims,” stated Randy Smith, City manager for South Padre Island, in a press release. “The community will never forget the impact left from this tragic event.”
Laguna Madre and Rio Grande Valley residents are hosting their own ceremonies, too. This weekend, on Sept. 11, the Bikers for Christ motorcycle club will ride from Mission to Laguna Vista’s Veteran’s Memorial Park, then, through Constable escort, ride to Clayton’s Beach Bar at the end of South Padre Island, in memoriam for the Causeway Collapse and the World Trade Center attacks.
While the city hosts their ceremony, local boaters are gathering around the middle of the Causeway to blow foghorns in remembrance of the tragedy.
This year’s ceremony will differ from years past. U.S. Army Sgt. Joe McClendon will lead a color guard demonstration as head of the 1st Cavalry Division, a ceremonial horse cavalry unit based in Fort Hood, Texas. McClendon offered the service to the City of South Padre Island because he is intimately connected with the tragedy: Chelsea Welch, who died in the Causeway collapse, is his sister. “Harpoon” Barry Welch, Chelsea’s husband, who died alongside her, is McClendon’s brother-in-law.
Four horses will take part in the cavalry demonstration: one with a rider holding the U.S. flag, another rider holding the Texas flag, and two sentinels holding sabers. Originally, the cavalry was going to ride onto the Causeway, but the logistics behind it were not possible. Still, McClendon is happy to take part in a ceremony.
“It’s amazing to be in the position that I’m in to be able to do it,” McClendon told the PRESS in a phone call. “It’s a great honor to be able to be a part of the ceremony.”
The ceremony will be held on South Padre Island at Memorial Park, at the median between the eastbound and westbound lanes on the South Padre Island end of the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge, at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 15.
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