Island hosts causeway collapse memorial

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — A little after 2 a.m., Ed Cyganiewicz received a knock at his door.

It was Sept. 15, 2001, a night Cyganiewicz says he will never forget.

“I remember it clearly,” said Cyganiewicz, who was mayor at the time. “I didn’t have a peephole and I could hear the crackling of a police radio.”

Upon opening the door, he saw South Padre Island Police Department Sgt. James Woodard who told him the bridge collapsed and there were people in the water.

That night, the Queen Isabella Causeway was struck by a barge, causing a large section of the structure to collapse and several motorists to plunge into the water.

Cyganiewicz recalled seeing several boats trying to rescue people upon arriving at the scene.

The tragic event killed eight people — Barry and Chelsea Welch, Bob Harris and Hector Martinez, Jr., all of Port Isabel; Julio Mireles of Los Fresnos; Robin Leavell of Mercedes; Stvan Francisco Rivas of Humble, and Gaspar Hinojosa of Kingsville.

Three people survived the incident — Rene Mata of Port Isabel; Bridgett Goza and Gustavo Morales of Brownsville.

“Every time I run into one of the survivors, and he probably will be there Sunday — we’ll just hug each other because he’s someone who’s very fortunate,” Cyganiewicz said.

In honor of those affected, the Queen Isabella Causeway was renamed the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge in 2003.

The cities of Port Isabel and the Island take turns hosting an anniversary memorial every year to honor both the victims and the survivors of the Queen Isabella Causeway collapse.

The City of South Padre Island will host the ceremony today at 1 p.m. at Memorial Park, located at the median between the eastbound and westbound lanes near the entrance to the Island.

“We would like to remember and honor the victims,” South Padre Island City Manager Randy Smith stated in a press release. “The community will never forget the impact left from this tragic event.”

Today’s memorial will include an honor guard, an invocation and speeches by representatives of both cities.

When it comes to the memorials, Cyganiewicz said the first thing he thinks about is remembering the victims and the survivors.

Secondly, he thinks about how proud he was to see communities, neighbors and everyone come together during the difficult time.

“I always to this day, say it made our community a lot closer and a lot stronger,” he said. “If we could get through this, we could get through almost anything.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT — 18th anniversary memorial of the Queen Isabella Causeway collapse

WHERE — Memorial Park, at the medians near the entrance to South Padre Island

WHEN — Today at 1 p.m.

For questions, email Parks and Recreation Manager Debbie Huffman at dhuffman@myspi.org or call (956) 761-8168.