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Victims of 1980 Skyway disaster to be memorialized

A St. Petersburg man is working to create a memorial for the 35 people who died in the Sunshine Skyway bridge disaster of 1980, when a barge hit the main span in a thunderstorm.

Journalist Bill DeYoung is working to raise $8,000 to erect the granite-and-bronze memorial before a 35th anniversary event May 9.

That day, the 600-foot freighter Summit Venture struck the southbound span of the steel cantilever superstructure during a violent storm during the early morning. The main span was rebuilt as a cable-stayed bridge and opened to traffic in 1987.

De Young worked through the Florida Legislature to secure the monument, which was officially approved in a bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June.

De Young is the author of a recently published book detailing the history of the bridge disaster.

“I was shocked and saddened that this dark day was fading into history, and very surprised there was nothing to memorialize these people,” DeYoung told the Bradenton Herald. “This is the worst ship-and-bridge disaster in American history.”

The memorial with the names of those killed will sit on a grassy stretch of land in the northside rest area between Blackthorn Memorial Park and the fishing pier, DeYoung said.

Although the state did not pursue a marker for the 35 who died, Zachary Burch, a government affairs liaison with the Florida Department of Transportation, said the state supports DeYoung’s effort.

“It will be up to him or an organization to come up with the funds for the marker itself,” he said.

DeYoung hopes the public will donate the $8,000 needed for the memorial.

“We’ve raised about $2,000 already so we are a quarter of the way there,” he said. “We are starting to contact family members and hope to get as many as we can locate to come to the dedication.”

The monument will features a bronze plaque that will include a bas relief of the twin Skyway spans before the incident. It will also have the names of the 35 victims engraved under the words “In Memoriam, “along with a brief explanation of the events.

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