By J. Lee
AAP staff writer
MINNEAPOLIS (Aug. 1, 2011) — Overlooking the Mississippi River just upstream from the historic 35W Bridge Collapse of August 1, 2007 and the rebuilt bridge, the 35W Remembrance Garden forever immortalizes the victims and survivors.
Like sentries, a row of 13 tall I-beam pillars spans the 81’ long plaza for the date 8/1. Each pillar is engraved with the name of a victim who died and the tribute made by their relative. At night, the pillars glow blue in front of the waterfall cascading over the granite Wall of Survivors whose 181 names are etched in stone.
The defining message on the wall reads: “Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events.”
The 35W Remembrance Garden is “Dedicated to those who were lost, those who survived, and those who responded with heroism and humanity – to all whose lives were changed forever at 6:05pm on August 1, 2007.”
At the dedication ceremony, Governor Mark Dayton further proclaimed August 1as a day Minnesota will always remember and honor the victims, survivors, and people who helped during the time of the great disaster. He spoke of the victims as “innocent people who assumed the infrastructure would take them safely to the other side of the river”, but who were “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Governor Dayton pointed out “There’s nothing we can do to bring them back, but this memorial is a fitting tribute to them.”
Meeting with each of the victim’s families and many of the survivors, Mayor R.T. Rybak said they’re from “every cross-section of Minnesota, and while they were of different cultures, traditions, and religions – they were dealing with the same problem.” He said that they were concerned about the other victims and survivors. And “those who suffered the most, were looking out and forward.”
Mayor Rybak referred to the Memorial Garden as “a place to grieve and celebrate together, not by the differences but by what we share together, our common ground.” Mayor Rybak also spoke of the Garden as also “a place where we talk about what happens as we move on.”
Family and relatives read their tribute to the victims followed by the reading of the names of the survivors. Among the victims were United Cambodian Association of Minnesota’s Vera Peck and her son Richard Chit.
The tribute read by Nick Carchedi and engraved on her pillar states “Vera fled the Khmer Rouge to a new language and culture.” “She was a single mother of 3”. “Vera had a kind of grace that God gives to his special souls. They are the souls that are on earth to be examples for the rest of us.” “If anyone treated her unkindly or took advantage of her gentle nature, she would forgive them and move on. She would say “It’s over. Let it go.”
The tribute to Richard said he was “gentle and loving, lived in the moment, and enjoyed the simple pleasures.” Also part of the tribute were Vera’s daughters Pollee and Caroline, and grandchildren Isabelle, Alexandra and Bradon.
Asians among the survivors include: Jenny Xiong, Thuy Vo, Tina Nguyen, Sheraz Din, Wen-Yan King, and Kim Brown.
The Asian Pacific American organizations providing services and advocacy for the victims and survivors were United Cambodian Association of Minnesota headed by Executive Director Yorn Yan and Children’s Hope International/ R & R Family Ctrs headed by Executive Director Jean Lee. This included supporting legislative and court awards to victims and survivors.
With Senator Ron Latz’s support, the cap was increased to a maximum of $400,000. Amounts were based on the extent of the injury or death, and damages. The $37 million legislative fund covered the 179 settlements.
Lawsuits by Jim Schwebel of Schwebel, Goetz and Sieben Law Firm, and Chris Messerly of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP who led a coalition of 17 law firms – resulted in court awards to victims and survivors participating in the lawsuits. The $52.4 million court settlement that victims and survivors received last year paid the $1.5 million cost of the Memorial Garden.
The highest total legislative and court award went to Paula Coulter, of Savage for $2.2 million. Her husband and two girls received smaller amounts. Paula almost died of a head injury.
The largest legislative and court settlement for a fatality was $1.39 million that went to Patrick Holmes’s survivors.
Evidence supported the National Transportation Safety Board investigations that weak gusset plates under the heavy loads was the cause of the collapse. Although the State of Minnesota joined the victims and survivors as Plaintiffs, it was a challenge to hold the different companies liable for the improper design and defect that was over 40 yrs. old.
As U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar said “Bridges don’t just fall down.” She along with others in the Congressional delegation, got federal funds to rebuild the 35W bridge.
Mayor R.T. Rybak reported that 52 bridges were repaired or improved since the 35W Bridge collapse, with 120 more in process. Minnesota has over 2,000 bridges that must be maintained. The disaster also resulted in the NTSB changing industry practices to prevent similar tragedies in other states.
As of August 3, 2011, reports came in that vandals removed some of the lettering on the Wall of Survivors names. Mayor R.T. Rybak reported that it will take three weeks to repair and cost several thousand dollars. The crime was said to be more offensive because it desecrated “sacred ground.”