Navy dive team joins search for missing in Texas bridge collapse; tugboat owner sued

Thursday, September 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PORT ISABEL, Texas (AP) _ A Navy dive team joined the search Thursday for three people still missing since the collapse of a South Padre Island bridge.

Three sections of the Queen Isabella Causeway collapsed Saturday morning after being struck by barges. Five people are confirmed dead. Five vehicles have been recovered and two remain missing.

The Navy dive team, with sophisticated sonar and metal detection equipment, arrived Thursday morning.

Lt. Lynn Dixon, leading a 15-member dive team for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said this was the most dangerous mission his team has undertaken in its five years.

On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General John Cornyn filed a lawsuit against the owners of a tugboat that pushed the barges into the causeway.

The lawsuit sought to have Brown Water Towing I Inc. and Brown Water Marine Service Inc. declared negligent and liable for the accident.

Stephen Mosher of Brown Water Towing said in a statement Wednesday that the channel was mismarked, so the barges hit bottom without warning, and navigation lights on the highest part of the bridge were not working. He also said a Coast Guard vessel was in the area performing maintenance on navigational markers before the crash.

Brown Water Marine Service Inc. declined to comment on the lawsuit.

A preliminary investigation found the channel was adequately maintained to a depth of at least 14 feet. It also found the operator, a relief captain, was not alcohol-impaired and had not been working an especially long shift, said Coast Guard spokesman Alan Grodecki.

Cameron County District Attorney Yolanda de Leon said Wednesday that her office will review the investigation and did not know if charges would be warranted.