It’s been 35 years, but I have vivid memories of the morning of May 9, 1980. I left home for my job as city editor of The Tampa Times during a blinding rain. Fearing flooding on my usual scenic route of Bayshore Boulevard, I took the higher-ground Crosstown Expressway instead.
As I approached the door of the newspaper building around 8 a.m., the early-morning copy editing crew was leaving; they had put out the first street-sales edition of the afternoon newspaper and were heading for breakfast before diving into the home edition.
One of them told me the Sunshine Skyway bridge had been hit by a ship and collapsed into Tampa Bay. I thought they were pulling my leg until I got upstairs and saw the TV news reports.
The rest of the morning was spent disatching reporters and photographers and taking dictation over the phone as reporters called in with new information. As new facts came in, I arranged them into the story that would display across the top of the front page of the afternoon editions.
One of our photographers — Gary Rings? Mack Goethe? — came back with an iconic shot of Richard Hornbuckle’s yellow Skylark stopped feet from the missing main span of the bridge.
Hornbuckle survived but 35 others — occupants of cars and a Greyhound bus — didn’t.
Robin Trohn Sussingham’s report on the anniversary — 35 years, 35 lives — will be heard tomorrow morning on WUSF-FM. I’ll be listening and thinking about a morning when a team of reporters, photographers and editors pulled together to tell one of the biggest stories of their careers.