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Documentary On Sunshine Skyway Disaster Revisits Tragedy, Trial

A portion of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge collapsed into Tampa Bay in May 1980 after it was struck by a cargo ship.
"The Skyway Bridge Disaster" / YouTube
Screen shot from "The Skyway Bridge Disaster," a documentary on the 1980 tragedy that will premiere at the Tampa Theatre this week.

A documentary about the 1980 Sunshine Skyway disaster has been released for on-demand audiences as the tragedy reaches its 40th anniversary. 

It was a rainy Friday morning when the cargo ship M/V Summit Venture collided with a support beam on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on May 9, 1980. 

The storm was so severe that motorists couldn’t see the section of roadway that had collapsed. Six cars, a truck and a Greyhound bus plummeted 150 feet into Tampa Bay. 

35 people were killed. The truck deflected off the ship and sank, but the driver was able to swim to safety, becoming the only survivor.


“The Skyway Bridge Disaster” was produced by businessman Frankie VanDeBoe and Steve Yerrid, the attorney who represented the Summit Venture’s harbor pilot, Captain John Lerro. The movie recounts the events leading up to and following the bridge collapse and civil court case against Lerro.

They originally talked with WUSF in 2019, when the movie premiered at the Tampa Theatre. It now is available on Amazon Prime video.

“For the first time, the public will not only get a view of the story, which is much deeper than a tragic collapse of a bridge, but a true look at a story that has had a profound societal impact across the country and across the world,” said Yerrid.

Yerrid added that the focus of the documentary extends further than the tragedy or the courtroom drama - he believes it’s about the impact that the disaster had on future infrastructure development.

“Bridges that were designed before this one, very few of them had the sophisticated fendering, bumper systems and equipment that is placed on this new bridge,” said Yerrid.

Twenty-two years after the disaster, Lerro passed away after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. He was 59 years old.

Proceeds from the premiere screenings will benefit pediatric cancer treatment and research, including the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, 1-Voice Foundation, Children’s Cancer Center and Moffitt Cancer Center.

Both screenings this weekend are sold out, but Yerrid and VanDeBoe say there might be additional ones in the future. They’re also considering streaming the documentary as well as entering the movie in film festivals around the world.

“We’re going to see where this movie can go,” said Yerrid. “We’re keeping all of our options open.”

(Editor's note: This story was updated on May 7, 2020 to reflect new information about the documentary.)

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