I-40 bridge disaster

Coordinates: 35°29′10″N 95°05′57″W / 35.4861°N 95.0991°W / 35.4861; -95.0991
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I-40 Bridge disaster
I40 Bridge disaster.jpg
The collapsed section of the Interstate 40 bridge, May 31, 2002
DateMay 26, 2002 (2002-05-26)
Time7:45 am (CDT)
LocationWebbers Falls, Muskogee County, Oklahoma, United States
Coordinates35°29′10″N 95°05′57″W / 35.4861°N 95.0991°W / 35.4861; -95.0991
CauseTowboat collision with a bridge pier, caused by captain losing consciousness
Non-fatal injuries11

The I-40 bridge disaster was a bridge collapse that occurred southeast of Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, United States at 7:45 a.m. on May 26, 2002. Freight barges being transported on the Arkansas River collided with a pier supporting the Interstate 40 road bridge crossing the river. The resulting failure of the supports caused a section of the bridge to collapse, killing 14 people and injuring another 11. The collision was determined to have resulted from the captain of the barges' towboat losing consciousness.

Collision and collapse[edit]

Joe Dedmon,[1] captain of the towboat Robert Y. Love, was transporting barges on the Arkansas River. While traversing the Robert S. Kerr Reservoir, Dedmon experienced a syncope and lost control of the tow. This, in turn, caused the barges he was towing to collide with a pier off the Interstate 40 bridge crossing the reservoir. A 580-foot (180 m) section of the bridge collapsed, plunging into the water.[2] It was raining heavily at the time of the collapse, but the rain subsided soon afterward.[3] By the time traffic stopped and individuals became aware of the missing road, eight passenger vehicles and three semi-trucks had fallen into the river or on collapsed bridge pieces. Fourteen people died and 11 others were injured when the automobiles and tractor-trailers fell from the bridge. Survivors were aided by fishermen who were participating in a bass fishing tournament in the river near the bridge.[4]

Rescue and recovery[edit]

Three people that had fallen into the river in their vehicles were able to get out and swim to shore.[5] While participating in a bass fishing tournament, fishermen on the water saw the disaster occurring and attempted to aid the victims and stop the cars and trucks they witnessed driving towards the bridge failure. One fisherman along the river shot a flare at a tractor-trailer driver in an attempt to get the truck to stop.[6] Others threw ropes at individuals in vehicles to attempt to pull them from the water.[4]

The two-time convicted felon William James Clark impersonated a U.S. Army captain at the disaster scene for two days. Clark's efforts included directing FBI agents and appropriating vehicles and equipment for the rescue effort, before fleeing the scene. Clark was later apprehended in Canada.[7]

An estimated 20,000 vehicles per day were rerouted for about two months while crews rebuilt the bridge. Traffic resumed July 29, 2002—two months after the disaster. The reopening set a new national record for such a project, which would normally be expected to take six months.[8]

Investigation and litigation[edit]

It was reported that the towboat Robert Y. Love had problems with steering back in 1994, although Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Natalie Magnino stated that the 1994 problem was caused by debris that had jammed the rudder and was not the result of mechanical failure or pilot error.[4]

The National Transportation Safety Board stated in 2004 that the collapse was due to Captain Dedmon's loss of consciousness, possibly due to an unforeseeable abnormal heart rhythm.[2] Indiana University Professor of Medicine Douglas Zipes agreed with this explanation and stated in a letter to Dedmon's attorney that it was likely that Dedmon had ventricular tachycardia, which caused him to black out.[9] As a result of the accident the Safety Board recommended that the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center evaluate the utility and effectiveness of alerter systems within the wheelhouse of inland towing vessels. This was in addition to warning systems for motorists to stop in the case of a partial or total bridge collapse.[10]

In May 2003, victims of the bridge collapse settled a lawsuit with the towboat company. The Mississippi-based company Magnolia Marine Transport Co. settled with the 14 deceased victims' families and those injured for an undisclosed amount.[9] This is separate from the other suits against the company by the state of Oklahoma and by MBO Video, whose fiber optic cables were severed by the collapse.[11]


The town created a memorial statue in honor of the victims and the event, a 14-foot-tall bronze sculpture that incorporates pieces of the wreckage and is topped by a young girl reaching upwards to release a dove. The young girl represents the youngest victim, a 3-year-old girl. It was created by Shahla Rahimi-Reynolds, who was chosen by the Webbers Falls Committee to design the memorial, which also uses 14 granite plaques to memorialize each victim. The memorial was dedicated on May 26, 2003.[12] The memorial cost the state almost $150,000.[13]

Webbers Falls marked the 15th anniversary of the bridge collapse with a special ceremony at the Webbers Falls Historical City Park, with the monument in honor of those who were affected by the accident.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Towboat Captain Was Short On Sleep". www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved February 17, 2022.
  2. ^ a b Office of Public Affairs (August 31, 2004). "NTSB News Release: NTSB Determines Cause of I-40 Bridge Collapse in Oklahoma". National Transportation Safety Board. Archived from the original on June 30, 2017. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  3. ^ "Divers find 3 victims from bridge collapse". CNN. May 27, 2002. Archived from the original on June 20, 2006. Retrieved June 26, 2006.
  4. ^ a b c "Death toll rises to 13 in bridge collapse". CNN. May 28, 2002. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  5. ^ a b Writer, Burton. "Ceremony set to honor I-40 bridge collapse victims". Muskogee Phoenix. Archived from the original on May 26, 2017. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  6. ^ "I-40 bridge collapse kills 14". Tulsa World. May 27, 2002. Archived from the original on May 26, 2021. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  7. ^ "Man convicted for bridge fraud". United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Archived from the original on September 3, 2010. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  8. ^ Hopkins, Cheyenne (July 30, 2002). "Traffic flows again on I-40 bridge". The Oklahoman. Archived from the original on April 15, 2015. Retrieved September 6, 2021.
  9. ^ a b "Victims of I-40 bridge collapse reach settlement with towboat owner". NewsOK.com. May 22, 2003. Archived from the original on May 11, 2021. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  10. ^ "U.S. Towboat Robert Y. Love Allision With Interstate 40 Highway Bridge Near Webbers Falls, Oklahoma May 26, 2002" (PDF) (Press release). Washington, D.C.: National Transportation Safety Board. August 31, 2004. p. 63. Retrieved July 30, 2021.
  11. ^ WFMY Staff (May 22, 2003). "Victims of Bridge Collapse Settle with Barge Company". WFMY News 2. Archived from the original on May 11, 2021. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  12. ^ "Webbers Falls, Oklahoma". Webbers Falls, Oklahoma. March 29, 2014. Archived from the original on April 20, 2018. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  13. ^ "Memorial set for victims of I-40 bridge collapse". NewsOK.com. January 5, 2003. Archived from the original on August 13, 2004. Retrieved April 20, 2018.

External links[edit]