Baltimore Bridge Collapse Reawakens Memories For Oklahoma First Responders

What happened in Baltimore is traumatic for many Oklahoma first responders who worked a similar scene almost 22 years ago. On May 26, 2002, a tugboat hauling two barges slammed into the Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River in Webbers Falls, killing 14 people.

Tuesday, March 26th 2024, 6:32 pm



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What happened in Baltimore is traumatic for many Oklahoma first responders who worked a similar scene almost 22 years ago.

On May 26, 2002, a tugboat hauling two barges slammed into the Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River in Webbers Falls, killing 14 people.

A memorial along the Arkansas River honors the lives lost while reminding the community of those who answered the call for help and the toll this tragedy took on everyone involved.

News On 6 talked to several first responders about their experiences and takeaways.

Larry Carter was the Grove fire chief when the I-40 bridge collapsed.

“It shook my whole house, and it woke me up,” said Carter. “About that time, my phone rang.”

Carter said he rushed to the scene and started helping Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers with diverting traffic to the Highway 64 bridge.

“If you look at the bridge behind me here, there was 27 semis on that bridge at one time,” said Carter.

He will never forget what he saw.

“When that little girl came up, a lot of them, they couldn’t take it,” said Carter. “It was just unbearable.”

But there were glimmers of hope.

Goldie Alley and her husband were in a silver pickup truck when the barge hit, and they survived.

In a 2002 interview, Alley said, "When my husband got to the edge, he said, 'I don't remember a hill being here,' and about that time, we were in the air."

First responders spent days looking for victims.

Steve Hutson was the assistant hazmat director for the Muskogee Fire Department and described the response as a cluster.

"We had so much argument over how things should be done, we had people coming from everywhere that were just wanting to jump in and help instead of being there as a part of a coordinated response,” said Hutson.

Hutson said he has driven on the collapsed bridge in Baltimore and trained with the city's first responders.

He said many agencies have learned from Oklahoma's response, and he is hopeful the lessons are helpful in their mission.

"We say, 'OK, here's where we made our mistakes, here's where we did it right,’ and we take that on and use it as a training piece,” said Hutson. “A lot of teams, a lot of groups have modeled off of what happened here in Oklahoma."

On the anniversary of the tragedy, community members and sometimes loved ones gather at the memorial to remember the victims.

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