FIFTEEN YEARS AGO THIS EVENING, 13 people died and 145 were injured when the 35W bridge collapsed during rush hour in downtown Minneapolis. Vehicles plunged into the Mississippi River. Others clung to the tilted, broken span of roadway. Lives were forever changed at 6:05 pm on August 1, 2007, when faulty gusset plates gave way and the bridge broke.
Among those most seriously injured was then 32-year-old Garrett Ebling, former managing editor of The Faribault Daily News. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, severed colon, broken left arm and ankles, a spinal injury and more after his Ford Focus nosedived 110 feet, the equivalent of an 11-story building, into the river. That he survived seems miraculous. He spent weeks in the hospital, where he underwent multiple surgeries. A lengthy rehab followed. His life, physically, mentally and emotionally, was forever changed.
Within months of the collapse, I penned a feature story about Garrett for Minnesota Moments, a now-defunct magazine. Mine was one of the few initial interviews Garrett granted and I was both humbled and honored to share his story as a freelance writer. Prior to his departure from the editorial job in Faribault, we had connected. I remember Garrett’s kindness and compassion toward me after my son was struck by a hit-and-run driver in May 2006. I took great care in writing his story, recognizing that another journalist was trusting me to get it right.
In 2012, Garrett wrote about his experiences and life thereafter in a book, Collapsed—A Survivor’s Climb From the Wreckage of the 35W Bridge. I reviewed that revealing and emotional book in which this survivor held nothing back.
Since then, I’ve lost track of the “author, father and 35W bridge collapse survivor,” as Garrett labels himself on his Twitter account. But I expect today, the anniversary of the bridge collapse, is difficult for him as it is every survivor and every single person who lost a loved one 15 years ago in downtown Minneapolis when the unthinkable happened. When a bridge fell.
There are moments in history that we never forget and, for me a Minnesotan, August 1, 2007, is one of those dates. When I heard the breaking news of the bridge collapse, I worried first about extended family who live in the metro. They were not on the bridge. While that diminished my personal angst, it does not diminish the tragedy of that day for those who were on that bridge. Like Garrett Ebling, the 144 others injured and the 13 who died. It is a tragedy, too, for those who loved them and for us, collectively, as Minnesotans.
© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
This gave me chills and made me tear up just to read about it. Traumatic events change live forever in so many ways and I thank you for sharing his story so thoughtfully. I am so glad he has written a book about his experience as a survivor
Beth, thank you for your thoughtful and compassionate comment.
It just so happened that I was driving across that very bridge this morning when MPR aired an interview with another survivor of that bridge collapse. It gave me an eerie feeling in the pit of my stomach to hear her words as I sped over the river. Since we live in Roseville, the day the bridge collapsed we could hear the helicopters on the scene before we knew what had happened. And then my son Shawn called me from work because he’d been in the break room when the news broke. He wanted to make sure I was home and not on the bridge. That anyone survived the collapse is miraculous.
That had to be a chilling moment for you driving over the bridge this morning while MPR interviewed a survivor. Yes, it is miraculous anyone survived the collapse. I can only imagine Shawn’s fear that August evening 15 years ago.
I frequently attended meetings on the U of M’s Saint Paul Campus which meant driving over that bridge. I wasn’t a daily commuter, but like many people, I drove it often enough to give me pause when it happened. That day, I happened to be at a meeting that was often on campus but because of the mix of people attending, it was scheduled for Hutchinson instead. Had it been on campus, I probably would have left the Twin Cities a little earlier. Still, like many Minnesotans, it just gives me chills to think about what happened and my own chances of being there at that fateful time.
Colleen, thank you for sharing your story and thoughts of what may have been had that meeting location not been changed.
It was one of those moments in history where I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I had only just gone across the bridge days before for work at the Army Reserve Center at the airport. I almost never went that way but there was a backup on 35E so I took 35W. As I was sitting back at my home up North I thought how if it happened just a few days earlier… well… now I can’t believe it has been 15 years!
Thanks for sharing this.
I think many Minnesotans share your thoughts of “I may have been on that bridge if…”