Former ODOT spokesperson talks Webbers Falls bridge collapse, 20 years later

Tulsa, Okla. — It was fairly early Sunday morning on May 26, 2002, when Terri Angier was having her coffee before heading to church on Memorial Day Weekend. Little did Angier know that the day would hold far different plans.

Angier, at the time, was the spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation [ODOT]. Around 8 a.m., she received a call from her boss, Gary Ridley, who was the director of ODOT in 2002.

“He talked very fast. He told me that he had an emergency crisis,” said Angier.

>>>MORE: Cherokee Nation celebrates 150-year anniversary of Sequoyah Schools

There had been a bridge collapse in Webbers Falls at 7:45 a.m. A freight barge had collided with the pier and caused a catastrophic 580-foot collapse.

Angier immediately began to pack and she headed to the office and her phone began to blow up with calls from the media. Angier took a flight with three others from ODOT to Muskogee-Davis Regional Airport.

“There was about a 40-minute drive to the site,” Angier recalled. “Then we got out and walked about a mile to the scene.”

By the time Angier arrived three hours had passed since she initially learned about the horrific incident from Ridley.

As a spokesperson, Angier had been ODOT’s voice for many accidents and disasters, but she describes that the Webbers Falls Bridge Collapse was the worst tragedy she worked on in her career. The images of that day will forever be imprinted in her mind.

“As we walked down to the banks, I remember seeing a diaper in the water. Which was telling, because we knew there were most likely children submerged,” said Angier.

According to Angier, there were fishermen on a boat in the water that witnessed the collapse. They could see vehicles continuing to drive across the bridge towards the opening on the bridge.

“They set off a flare gun, which actually landed on the windshield of a semi, causing the driver to slam on its breaks and jackknife,” said Angier.

The semi could have plunged into the water.

Even 20 years later, the memories of that day are very vivid and real to Angier and she is still moved to tears when speaking about the victims who lost their lives that day.

14 people were killed and 11 were injured. It is believed that five vehicles were on the bridge when it began to give way.

In one vehicle was the Johnson family. Jim, Misty, and their 3-year-old daughter Shae were reportedly on their way to the Tulsa Zoo and would be three of the casualties that day.

>>>MORE: Tulsa Zoo planning one of the largest elephant preserves in the country

Andrew Clements, 35, was on a road trip from California to the East Coast. He had just been assigned to the Army Test and Evaluation Command in Alexandria, Virginia. He was headed to meet his family who had already moved out there for his new position.

“He had four children,” said Angier.

Also, traveling cross country for vacation from Oregon was Jeanine Catherine Cawley, 48. Her body was recovered from the waters. Her husband Richard was rescued and survived.

Gail Shanahan, 49, and Margaret “Maggie” Green, 45 from Texas were returning home after attending a rodeo in Fort Smith and were two of the victims of the bridge collapse.

Jerry and Patricia Gillion were from Spiro, Oklahoma. They were on their way to visit their son and their daughter-in-law in Broken Arrow.

Travelers Harlis “Wayne” Martin, 49, and his wife Susan Martin, also 49 from Norman lost their lives in the bridge collapse that day.

David Mueggenborg, 52, and Jean Mueggenborg, 51, from Okarche, Oklahoma were also victims.

And Paul Tailele, Jr, 39 from Utah also passed away from this tragedy.

Several lives on a memorial day weekend that were all cut short.

Angier will be forever changed by the event of that day. And she says will never forget the humanity she witnessed, the multiple miracles that she encountered, and the victims.

There is a memorial that was created to honor the 14 lives lost and the five survivors.

“It’s on black granite that looks beautiful. It’s their names is etched on a 14 sided structure and then the broken bridge on top with an Angel that ironically the hand is flying toward the actual bridge on I-40 south,” described Angier. “And then five pillars or white pillars that represent the five survivors.”

Angier says she is at the close of her career with the department after working with ODOT for about 32 years.

“I’ve dealt with many, many successes, many, many crises, but this will always be one of the closest to my heart,” recalled Angier.

RELATED: Emergency maintenance crews on scene repairing bridge at Peoria exit on I-44 in Tulsa