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skyway bridge incidents

incidents occur on and around the skyway bridge, 1959-1999.
updated: 01.01.15

links could be broken at any time. (our comments follow)
12.31.98: man drives off the end of the old skyway bridge fishing pier and dies.
William Dusty Sallee, 38
01.08.99, st. petersburg times, By LEANORA MINAI, Tollkeeper's plunge ruled accident.
While the associate medical examiner agrees that the fatal crash on the Skyway fishing pier was odd, he says he has no evidence of suicide.
The death of William Dusty Sallee, the pier toll operator who drove off the South Skyway Fishing Pier into Tampa Bay, has been ruled an accident by the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office.
Without a suicide note or witness who heard Sallee threaten to kill himself, there is no evidence that Sallee intended to take his life, said Dr. Russell Vega, the associate medical examiner who performed the autopsy.
"My point of view here is that without pretty strong evidence that a traffic crash is a suicide, we're going to call it an accident," Vega said.
Sallee suffered trauma to the chest and abdomen when his speeding GMC Jimmy hit a Honda Accord at the end of the pier. He crashed through a foot-thick concrete wall and plunged 15 feet into the water.
"He primarily drowned," Vega said. 
Toxicology tests to determine whether Sallee had alcohol or drugs in his system will be ready today. 
Fishermen said Sallee, 38, was jittery and complained of stomach problems when they paid their entrance tolls.
"I know he had a few beers the day before, but not that day," said Greg McElwaney, 40, his roommate in Tampa.
Sallee had just finished his midnight to 8 a.m. shift Dec. 31 when he climbed into his truck and drove down the pier.
Witnesses said Sallee was driving 70 mph and staring straight ahead before he reached the end of the pier.
The Florida Highway Patrol has not finished its investigation.
"The story that I had at the time was that he collided with a car, which caused his car to go off the pier," said Vega, the medical examiner. "I didn't hear a story that he turned his car to intentionally head off a pier." 
However, Vega said, the crash is odd. 
"I would admit to you that you have to wonder why somebody would be driving like that, and I don't have a good explanation," he said. "He might have been thinking about something. Maybe he does have some substances in his body causing him to act irrationally." 
McElwaney, Sallee's roommate, said he thinks Sallee suffered a stroke. 
"He had every intention of coming home that morning," said McElwaney, who knew Sallee for six years. 
The medical examiner said strokes do not show up in an autopsy, and other than signs of some heart disease, Sallee did not appear chronically ill. 
McElwaney and Sallee's family plan to spread Sallee's cremated remains over a forest. 
"It's hard," McElwaney said, "because I have to walk through the same doors he did every day."

(happened again on 12.23.15.)
05.24.98: 10,000-pound tractor tumbles off skyway
05.27.98,, By JAMES HARPER, © st. petersburg times,
ST. PETERSBURG -- A passing semitrailer truck and a top-heavy load nearly pulled a Parrish man and his son over the edge of the Sunshine Skyway early Saturday evening.
Instead, the 10,000-pound tractor they were carrying toppled into Tampa Bay from near the 170-foot-high center of the bridge. Their truck and the trailer they were pulling came to rest facing oncoming traffic on the downhill slope. Father and son were shaken but unhurt.
"I didn't save us," Randy Sharp told his 9-year-old son, Matthew, as they recounted the accident at a nearby rest stop. "The Lord saved us."
With tears in their eyes, the two stood a moment and prayed by the mangled rear bumper of their pickup truck.
The accident happened as the Sharps were heading south on the Skyway at about 8 p.m. Sharp had borrowed the Ford front-end loader from a friend, Bill Heaberlin of Clearwater, in order to do some land clearing and grading at his property in Manatee County. The tractor was chained to a flat-bed trailer behind Sharp's medium-duty truck.
Just as they were crossing the top of the bridge, a semitrailer sped past them, Randy Sharp said. The turbulent wind caused Sharp's rig to fishtail.
"We hit the right side of the bridge, and that caused us to swerve," said Matthew. After they bounced from one rail to the other and spun around, "We looked behind us, and the tractor was gone."
Randy Sharp said he didn't see the tractor fall or even which side of the bridge it flew off of. But the force of the accident was enough to break the heavy chains he had secured it with.
Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Paul Kopriva, who investigated the accident, said he's never seen an accident in which the wind from a passing semitrailer blew a vehicle off the Skyway.
But Sharp's load was unusually top-heavy, Kopriva said. Not unsafe or improperly loaded, he added, but it was unwieldy enough to make it harder for Sharp to maintain control in a sudden mishap.
Oddly, Kopriva had stopped Sharp just north of the main bridge and cited him for an improper tag and lighting on the trailer. But it was still daylight when the accident occurred.
The semitrailer that Sharp said caused the accident did not remain at the scene.
Kopriva said no charges will be filed. But he did have to tell Sharp that the Coast Guard will hold him responsible for retrieving the tractor and for cleaning up the oil and diesel fuel that were in it.
03.25.98: skyway bomb threat
03.26.98,, Skyway closed briefly, ST. PETERSBURG -- Authorities briefly closed the Sunshine Skyway bridge Wednesday while they investigated a bomb threat, the third in two days.
It took 17 minutes for several agencies to clear the bridge, inspect its top and bottom and declare it safe.
Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Mike Guzman warned that authorities are investigating all three fake bomb threats, which he said authorities must take seriously.
"We will take some action," Guzman said. "We can trace the calls to pay phones, cell phones. I don't want people to panic and be afraid of the Skyway."
About 2 p.m. Wednesday, an unidentified man walked into a driver's license office in Cocoa Beach and told an employee that a bomb had been placed on the bridge. The employee called Florida Highway Patrol, which closed the bridge about 2:15 p.m.
About 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, authorities received two phoned-in bomb threats. Hundreds of motorists were re-routed as dozens of law enforcement officers spent three hours searching the bridge.
Officials did not find anything suspicious Tuesday or Wednesday.
04.27.97: skyway swing stunt.
Steve Trotter, Jeff Sargent 26, Lori Martin 30, Glenn Rohm 29, Kenny Bunker
Trotter's attempted repeat of the stunt in 1997 at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa, FL ended in disaster. Trotter and four other people jumped, attached to the same cable. The plan had not been tested previously, and the cable snapped during the effort, causing Trotter and the others to plunge at least 70 feet into the bay.

Five-Man Bungee Stunt: What Went Wrong?
In April, 1997, a Fort Lauderdale man named Steve Trotter and four of his friends tried to break a bungee jumping record by plunging off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, supported by only a single cable shared between them. To watching news media, all seemed to be going fine, until the cable snapped at the bottom of their first swing, dropping them into the water below. But what went wrong?
The cable Trotter and friends were using was rated to support 635 kg, and the five of them only weighed 410 kg, so in theory shouldn’t the cable have been sufficient? It would seem that way, but the mistake Trotter made was that the 635 kg rating is only for objects that aren’t moving. When the cable broke, the group of five was moving at almost 110 km/h. At this speed, the cable was supporting a force equivalent to 1200 kg, much more than the 635 kg max rating. With the recommended load exceeded, the cable snapped and the group fell into the water. If Trotter had bothered to take physics, he might have made a more informed choice for his rope, and this entire accident could have been avoided.

07.03.97: full article
12.11.07, punchpixie, Tampa, Fl., The Spike TV episode also includes the fact that the injuries were extremely serious: "The five plunged at least 70 feet into the bay, still tethered together by pieces of cable. This time, Trotter escaped with a bruised lung and a stiff neck. Sargent, too, came away banged up and bruised, but escaped major injury. Lori Martin wasn't so lucky. She broke a vertebra in her neck and was so medicated on Tuesday she stayed away from the cameras. Rohm also broke a vertebra, but was walking around on Tuesday, his head held still in a metal halo drilled into his skull."

raw footage and police press conference.
video is over 20 minutes.

more raw footage, including rehearsal and from on the bridge. video is over 21 minutes.
steve trotter on 'dateline' after the skyway swing. part 1, 8m15s.  
   steve trotter on 'dateline' after the skyway swing. part 2, 8m49s.
11.13.86: golden gate bridge swing stunt.
06.18.95: over niagara falls in a barrel.

11.21.95: full article

07.21.11,, OVER THE EDGE: Freeport thrillseeker plans to barrel over Niagara Falls one last time, July 21, 2011 12:39 PM, Megan R. Moseley
Steve Trotter is an intelligent, well-spoken and charismatic individual who happens to have barreled over Niagara Falls, twice. And, he’s about to do it again.
When he was 22 years old, the Freeport man was the youngest person ever to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Doing what most people define as crazy, Trotter lives life on the edge.
Now 50 and shucking and jiving at the Acme Oyster House at The Village of Baytowne Wharf, Trotter spoke to the Sun about the first time he decided to do the unthinkable.
"I went to visit the Falls as a kid when I was 7 years old, and I just had a draw to it," he said. "Then I saw Annie Taylor’s barrel and I thought, ‘I have to do that.’ "
Taking the plunge
Annie Taylor was the first person to survive a trip in a barrel over Niagara Falls on her 63rd birthday in 1901.
Trotter’s glory day was Aug. 18, 1985, when he tucked himself into two Greek pickle barrels. The barrel was padded with ballistic Kevlar with hatches on both ends and encircled by inner tubes to dampen the blow. Trotter and his tricked-out barrel safely and successfully made it over the edge.
"It was wild," he said. "The Falls is about 178 feet high. So you have that initial hit when you get over the Falls, then you have the water accompanying you at 1,200,000 gallons a second."
But despite the dangers, the stunt was accomplished. Coming out with barely a scratch, Trotter was quickly thrown into jail as well as into the limelight.
After serving a mere 30 minutes in jail, he was released and bombarded by the media.
His most famous interview was on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, where he and the King of Late Night joked and discussed his latest adventure.
After the thrill of the stunt died down, Trotter went back to his home in Fort Lauderdale, where he worked as a bartender. Although he had accomplished his dream, he wasn’t done.
"I wanted to be on a 10-year-plan," Trotter said during an interview at his home. "I knew I would do it again."
Ten years later, on June 18, 1995, Trotter made his way back to Canada, this time in disguise ­­— having been red flagged by officials from his last stunt— and bringing a friend with him.
"I went up two weeks before disguised in a Rollie Fingers mustache, sunglasses, and a hat. I tried to keep a low profile," he said. "Then I went back and got the crew, and we stayed up there a week before getting everything together."
Once everything was in position, Trotter and his friend Lori Martin took the plunge. The second stunt was less successful, and Trotter walked away with a compression fracture in his back, two weeks of jail time and a $14,700 fine.
With help from his fellow bartenders and friends in Fort Lauderdale, Trotter paid the fine and was released. Although he had to pay substantial costs for both trespassing and retrieving the barrel that was stuck in the Falls for more than a week, Martin and Trotter became the first male-woman duo to go over the Falls in history.
A history of stunts
It’s said that those who don’t learn from the past are bound to repeat it. But with Trotter, he had learned how to push the envelope, and he wasn’t willing to stop at the Falls.
One of his favorite memories was after performing a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. On his 23rd birthday, he stood on the bridge overlooking Alcatraz prison when the Coast Guard showed up.
"They said, ‘Mr. Trotter stay where you are.’ I’m thinking ‘Crap. They know my name.’ I had nowhere to go."
But down.
After the jump, he was thrown in jail and was suffering from a severe laceration on his thigh where the cord cut into him. Stuck in jail on his birthday, bleeding and unhappy, he thought, "Wow, what a birthday."
All of a sudden, his luck changed. A deputy came to his cell and said that his bond had been made and to follow him. Confused as to who helped him, Trotter didn’t ask questions and followed orders.
He was met with a surprise to see two complete strangers waiting to take him out of jail and celebrate his birthday with him.
"They said they had heard about me before and were big fans," he said. "It was a woman by the name of Esther Green and a guy named Lorri Wilkins who dragged me down to this old jazz bar in San Francisco. When I walked in there was a band there who said, ‘Hey it’s the guy who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.’ At which point they started to sing this song called, ‘The guy who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.’ It turned from the worst birthday ever to the best."
Back to Niagara
Trotter is 20 years behind on his 10-year-plan to conquer the Falls. He hasn’t performed a stunt since 1997, which is not a coincidence. Aside from being on high alert in Canada, Trotter has other reasons for taking a break from thrill seeking.
"I would do other sorts of stunts, and one I did in 1997 went terribly wrong," he said. "My buddies and I were going to do a pendulum swing off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa. So we had a 200-foot long cable that we attached and five small wooden disks attached to the end of the cable that would be the weight of the pendulum. So we jumped off and halfway through we hear, ‘snap!’ and the cable broke. We went flying 70 feet into the bay, and hit it like a ton of bricks."
That incident left two of his friends in critical condition and Trotter with major injuries. Out of respect for his friends, Trotter swore off his daredevil ways for a while.
"When you see two of your friends almost die from a stunt you put on, it shakes you up," he said.
But his mourning period is over, and Trotter is in the planning stage of performing his third and final drop from the Falls. Without giving too many details about when and where it will happen out of fear that the Canadian government will interfere with his plans, Trotter did say that he’s already making his "Trottersphere" safe and solid.
With help from an engineer, Trotter is taking all precautions to make sure he can perform the stunt safely.
"I may try some crazy stuff, but I’m huge on safety," he said. "I’m not stupid about it."
This includes insulating the Trottersphere with nuclear warhead packing materials, and having the barrel designed and inspected by a team that consists of Navy SEALS and top-notch engineers.
"I just have this draw to the Falls, and it’s calling me back," he said.
11.09.94: full article
07.13.92: full article
11.20.88: skyway swing stunt.
Steve Trotter
each image opens a larger version.
10.25.87: thrill seekers • full article
01.16.85: full article
Gerald Schmidt, 29

01.16.85: full article

11.02.84: full article

08.09.84: full article

08.08.84: full article

08.10.84: full article

08.03.84: full article
08.02.84: skyway bomb threat

08.05.84: full article
05.09.84: skyway bomb threat

full article
10.01.83: skyway rumor
William R. Dean

07.20.83: full article
10.28.82: skyway bomb threat
05.19.82: full article
12.08.81: male suicide shooter dies
William Roth Johnson, 32
08.09.81: full article
05.22.80: full article

05.22.80: full article

05.09.80: ship collision collapses the skyway. 35 die. disaster website
03.09.79: full article

11.14.78: body dumped off the skyway • full article
Michael Murphey
04.13.78: nearby jumping incident
Eustice Ross, 21
04.14.78, full article

05.12.77: non-jumping skyway suicide
unknown, 36
09.09.76: suicide attempt • full article
10.19.75: full article
05.01.74: whiskey + marijuana + gun = party • full article
Charles William Jones
10.12.73: man found stabbed to death on skyway.
Peter Dent, 24

full article

Charles Waters, 22
09.16.69: full article

09.18.69: full article

09.26.69: full article
01.23.69: unintended faller, male, lived • full article
Julius Curry, 21
09.26.67: full article
04.04.66: full article
04.09.59: full article

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