Victims of bridge collapse: Out on errands, their lives changed in an instant


Associated Press

MIAMI

They had just finished up lunch, and set off to run a humdrum errand: a drive to the travel agency to pick up airline tickets for their annual visit to their beloved homeland Cuba.

Osvaldo Gonzalez and Alberto Arias, friends and business partners, happened to pass under a Miami bridge that Thursday afternoon, the road bustling with fellow drivers also out on the most ordinary and unthreatening of life’s tasks.

A teenager was driving her friend to the doctor’s office to pick up some medicine. A father of three was heading home from work. A woman on her way to a nail salon was stopped at a red light. Seconds – inches – would soon separate those who would live from those who wouldn’t.

Sweetwater police Detective Juan Llera was at his office a few blocks away, when he heard what he thought was a bomb exploding.

It was not a bomb; it was a bridge, a structure every American has passed under hundreds of times. But in an instant, this 950-ton span under construction at the Florida International University collapsed, and with no time to act or to flee, the cars that just so happened to be below it were pancaked under the rubble. Six people died.

Gonzalez and Arias, who together owned a party rental and decoration business, were among the dead. Their bodies were found Saturday inside their white Chevy truck as rescuers for days painstakingly dug through the debris of the fallen pedestrian bridge at Florida International University.

Hope for a miracle rescue faded as the names of the six dead became known, and those left living grappled with the senselessness, the suddenness of it.

Llera had sped to the scene, arriving within minutes. In the mayhem, he found a man lying unconscious on the street and started performing CPR. He could barely feel a pulse, but someone with the medical staff from the university came by and said, “you are keeping him alive. Keep going.” And so he did, and the man was alive when they rushed him away.

On Sunday morning, he studied a picture on the news of a young man in a crisp red shirt.

He has been identified by police as Navarro Brown, a 37-year-old employee with Structural Technologies VSL, listed among those killed. He had died at the hospital.

Other victims included Brandon Brownfield, a father of three who was driving home when the bridge collapsed; Alexa Duran, 18, who was driving a friend to pick up medication; and Rolando Hernandez.

Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the bridge to crumble. Cracking had been reported in the concrete span in the days before and crews were performing what’s called “post-tensioning force” on the bridge when it flattened onto the busy highway.

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