On May 9, 1980, America witnessed one of the most stunning tragedies in maritime history when the M/V Summit Venture, a massive 608’ bulk freighter, collided with one of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge’s support columns. More than 1,200 feet of the bridge crumbled into Tampa Bay, and 35 people plunged to their deaths in the turbulent and unforgiving waters below.
Captain John Lerro was the 37-year old harbor pilot responsible for guiding the Summit Venture along one of the longest and most treacherous shipping channels in the world. The Bay’s narrow and restrictive channels required a turn less than a mile from the mammoth bridge. A rogue storm racing across the Gulf that morning brought with it driving horizontal rain, hurricane force winds, and near zero-visibility. Wind gusts in excess of 80 miles per hour engulfed first the ship and then the bridge as well, resulting in a deadly combination.
From that day forward, the journey of Captain Lerro and Steve Yerrid, the young trial lawyer who came to represent him, was one of courtroom drama, heartbreaking struggle, hard-earned redemption, and the extraordinary bond of friendship that developed between a condemned client and his devoted lawyer.
More than 39 years later, Frankie VanDeBoe and Steve Yerrid present a new documentary The Skyway Bridge Disaster relives that unforgettable day and its aftermath, taking viewers onto the bridge, inside the ship and into the courtroom through the experiences of the people involved, local leaders, and Yerrid himself.