The Tampa Bay area is home to many iconic buildings and structures. The large area is full of history and beautiful architecture. One of these stunning marvels is imposing The Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Spanning Tampa Bay, the massive bridge is a familiar landmark to those visiting or living in the area. However, this bridge is more than just a giant piece of infrastructure. It has a collection of stories that’s as remarkable as its engineering.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge has endured years of tragedy. From horrific collisions, unexpected collapses, and grim suicides, it’s seen its fair share of death. The bridge and the water it hovers over definitely has the history to create an eerie environment.
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An Iconic Bridge in Tampa
The construction of the original Sunshine Skyway Bridge was completed in 1954. On September 6, traffic was able to use the new bridge to reach St. Petersburg from Terra Ceia and vice versa. The bridge transversed the sparkling blue waters of the Lower Tampa Bay. Previously, crossing this part of the bay was only possible via ferry.
The bridge was expanded to four-lanes in 1969 to accommodate an increase in traffic between the two cities. The over four-mile-long bridge stood strong over the waterway for the next decade. Then, in 1980, a series of tragedies struck.
The Tragedies of 1980
Eerily, two completely different tragedies occurred near the bridge just months apart in 1980. These unlikely events have led to the infamy of The Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the deep waters beneath it. They also make the bridge area an unfortunate scene of many untimely deaths.
The Blackthorn was a 180-foot buoy tender that was docked in Tampa Bay in early 1980. It was going through a major overhaul before returning to service. On January 28th, the ship was ready to set sail out of the bay.
When attempting to leave the port that night, The Blackthorn, found itself in a horrific accident. The ship collided with the tanker, The Capricorn, as it was floating in the bay. A lapse in communication would lead to a horrible outcome.
The ships were unable to make contact via radio to signal that they were passing. The Blackthorn’s captain had left the deck and left a junior officer in charge. When The Capricorn blew two short whistles to communicate that they needed to pass starboard to starboard, the inexperienced officer didn’t understand.
The Blackthorn attempted to evade the oncoming Capricorn, however, the two ships collided. The impact miraculously didn’t cause much damage. However, The Capricorn’s anchor got stuck in the side of The Blackthorn’s hull. The ships began to move apart and The Capricorn pulled The Blackthorn over until she capsized.
Twenty-three Coast Guard officers lost their lives that night in the waters near The Sunshine Skyway Bridge. One of them was an eighteen-year-old apprentice, William Flores. He tossed life jackets to the other seamen, trying to save their lives. Sadly, Flores himself sank to the depths of the Tampa Bay with the ship.
The Bridge’s Collapse
Just a few months later, on May 9th, the troubled waters would see even more tragedy. John Lerro was piloting the Summit Venture when the unthinkable happened. It’s a day he says will replay in his mind for the rest of his life.
Lerro was driving the ship when a sudden storm rolled in and took hold of the bay. The squall carried with it heavy rains and massive wind gusts. Lerro lost control of the heavy freighter under the intense conditions.
Despite the experienced Lerro’s efforts, the gigantic ship collided with two of the bridge supports. A huge chunk of the bridge’s roadway broke away and fell into the water below. Most were able to stop their vehicles in time, however, for several, it was too late.
Lerro watched in horror as vehicles began plummeting the 150 feet off the bridge into the bay below. Thirty-five unexpected passengers fell to their watery deaths. A truck landed on the dock of the ship and the driver was able to survive. Understandably, Lerro struggles with the guilt he carries to this day.
The damaged bridge was eventually demolished and hauled away. Construction on a new bridge to span the bay took place. Seven years later, the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge would open to traffic. The beautiful bridge is a stunning part of the skyscape of Tampa Bay to this day.
A Suicidal Hotspot
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge continues to be a scene of tragic events, even after its rebuilding. Sadly, many choose the iconic bridge as the place to end their lives. It is such a popular setting for suicides, that the state of Florida has made many efforts to deter would-be jumpers.
Records show that 248 people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge. It is known as one of the deadliest bridges in the entire country. Overcome with despair, hopeless souls take to the bridge to end their lives in the bay water below.
Florida has added emergency phones to the bridge so those considering jumping can easily reach a crisis hotline. There are also 24-hour patrols and cameras on the bridge to monitor for potentially suicidal activity. Steel nets are even being installed to prevent access to the outside of the walls at the bridge’s highest points.
Sadly, these efforts are unable to guarantee that future suicides won’t occur. The water below the bridge unexplainably draws many to its depths. Those that have ended their lives by suicide in that water join the many that have died from the tragedies before them.
With all of this death and heartbreak, it’s no surprise that The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is known as one of the most haunted spots in Tampa. Many unexpected drivers have had eerie and unexplainable encounters. The long span of roadway hovers over waters that have seen horrific events.
Many surprised motorists have been crossing the bridge when they are shocked to see a blond woman standing in the road. Others have even said that her image has been spotted in the backseat of their cars. Either way, the woman’s spirit seems to be unable to escape The Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Caring citizens have stopped their cars to help the woman, assuming she’s one of the many attempting to commit suicide from the bridge. However, when they get out of their cars, she suddenly vanishes into thin air.
Pedestrians are illegal on the bridge so you can only visit by car. Drive carefully and keep your eyes peeled for a lingering spirit. You might just catch a glimpse of one of the many people that call the bridge and the waters below their forever home.
Haunted Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay is a stunning and beautiful harbor. However, it’s peaceful waters hold many secrets. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge isn’t the only place near the bay that’s seen truly mysterious activity.
St. Petersburg rests at the foot of The Sunshine Skyway Bridge and is home to The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel. A stay at this hotel can give you the chance to encounter one of the many permanent guests many have reported spotting here. Popular with baseball players, many have reported hearing mysterious sounds or seeing eerie glowing images during their stays.
Across the bridge in Terra Cia is a nature lover’s paradise. It’s also a site of the haunted hotspot, The Madira Bickel Mound. Many have reported odd sensations when visiting the large mound, an old Native American burial ground.
The areas around the bay are a perfect chance to explore. The balmy, breezy weather makes for the perfect environment to search into the night for paranormal activity. Shadowy figures and spooky sounds float among the streets that surround the beautiful Tampa Bay waters.