Tulsa ME's office following up on missing person reports from bridge collapse

Monday, June 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Even though rescuers feel confident they've recovered all the victims from the I-40 bridge collapse, a number of people are still unaccounted for.

Volunteers are still trying to get in touch with 100 families. News on Six reporter Lori Fullbright explains how the process works.

“This is Ray Saffell with the Medical Examiner's office. We received your missing person's report and are seeing if you've heard from your family member." Ray Saffell and a team of five volunteers have been making calls like this one for the past eight days. After the I-40 bridge collapsed, the ME's office asked people to call in missing person reports, to help identify the dead.

And, call they did, they received 687 reports at the family assistance center in Webber's Falls. People there took the initial information and sent it to the ME's office, where volunteers called back to get more specifics. "We got calls from all over the country and the world. We got them from England and Holland."

A box at the ME's office holds all 687 reports, the stack next to it, is what's left after volunteers spent hundreds of hours talking to families. "We worked through the weekend and whittled it down to 100. We're still calling them because we haven't made contact to see if their family member's been located."

Many of the calls were from people who hadn't seen their loved ones in months, even years, but, knew they lived or fished in the Webber's Falls area. Volunteers took them all and sorted them out for the folks on the scene, recovering the bodies. But, those volunteers even went above and beyond. Most people know three horses died in the bridge collapse, but not as many know a dog and cat also died. At the request of the pet's owners, one of the volunteers here buried the pets on his own property, near Claremore.

Working with families involved in disasters is exhausting, heart-breaking work, and the toll it takes on the people who do it, is often overlooked. "There were times, as talking to families and crying as much as they were. But, we've done it before and we just work through it."

They work through it because the reward is getting people identified and returned to their families for that all-important final good-bye.