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John Lerro
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    (1943-August 31, 2002)
    Born in The Bronx, New York
    Skipper of the freighter SS Summit Venture that crashed into a pier support of Tampa Bay's Sunshine Skyway Bridge, causing a portion to collapse (May 9, 1980)
    Six cars and a Greyhound bus drove off the bridge and plummeted 150 feet into the bay, killing 16 men and 19 women
    Cleared of wrongdoing by a Coast Guard investigation and a Florida grand jury
    Died of multiple sclerosis in a Tampa hospital at age 59
    Talk about a career change. He went from dancing ballet at Carnegie Hall to piloting freighters and tankers.
    Though stuck in a freak, blinding rainstorm and doing everything to avert disaster, 35 lives were lost when his 600 foot freighter tore away part of the bridge.
    Only after his accident did officials look into fitting bumper devices around major bridge supports.
    He was haunted by the event the last 22 years of his life and battled depression (it was falsely rumored he committed suicide).
    Years after the disaster he stated, 'If I had my life to do over again, I'd be a flute player.'
    He radioed for the Coast Guard immediately after the accident so other vehicles wouldn't drive off the bridge.
    One car with four passengers stopped 14 inches from driving over.
    A pick-up truck did drive over but hit the freighter before rolling into the bay and the man at the wheel was saved.
    Though exonerated of all charges, he was targeted by some victim's family members and various crackpots for abuse.
    He was called an alcoholic, a homosexual, and a murderer, his 13-year-old son was targeted with taunts of 'your father's a murderer' and his lawyer's dog was stolen, beaten and urinated on.
    He piloted other vessels after the tragedy but had to quit less than a year later due to the onset of MS.
    After retiring as captain of vessels he taught at the Maritime Academy.
    Later he earned a master's degree in counseling from University of South Florida and volunteered at a crisis hotline in a center for criminals on probation.
    When the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was rebuilt and opened in 1987 the channel passage beneath the bridge was widened and its piers fendered.
    Later in retrospect he lamented, 'You know, you don't want to hit a bridge. Not that bridge. Not any bridge. That bridge was not fendered.'

Credit: Scar Tactics

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