Six years ago on Aug. 1, the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge became a frightening part of Minneapolis history. Now, the survivors and family members of victims have a chance to own a piece of the structure.
Free of charge, those who endured the experience and loved ones of those who did not survive it are now eligible to own a portion of the fallen span.
The plan released on Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Transportation calls for distributing pieces to the victims now that the National Transportation Safety Board has completed its investigation and the final lawsuits with Jacob's Engineering have been settled.
Most Minnesotans remember where they were when the bridge went down, and few can forget the images from that hot August night.
"I just remember cars. I was in a parking lot of cars," recalled Lindsay Walz, collapse survivor. "I remember being completely flabbergasted as to how there were people standing by their cars as if the tires had just been glued to the cement."
Walz was in the middle of the bridge when it plunged 10 stories into the Mississippi River.
"When I turned around, I saw smoke in the air and saw a slab of cement in the river," she remembered.
The resulting investigation marked the first time many had heard of a "gusset plate" and how it caused the catastrophic failure that killed 13 people and injured 145 others.
Since the NTSB completed its review into the disaster, the most critical pieces of evidence have been housed in a special storage facility.
"I initially just wanted to be able to be in the room and scream at it, but I couldn't get permission for that," Walz admitted. "So, I'll take a piece and get my anger out of it. I don't know, get something out of it."
MnDOT will not let survivors into the storage facility, but Kevin Gutknecht told FOX 9 News the agency felt the victims and their loved ones deserved a chance to have the first go at the fragments.
"I can understand why somebody might want something to remind them because clearly, that had to be a life-changing event," he said.
Walz's life certainly was changed. The collapse left her with a broken back and post-traumatic stress.
"After the collapse, I wasn't able to feel much," she said. "I was kind of a robot, numb to the world whether it was good or bad."
Since then, Walz has discovered painting and art therapy as part of her healing. She also used some of her bridge settlement as seed money to start a youth center called Courageous Hearts.
"I really considered it a way for me to kind of pay it forward," she explained. "I couldn't pay it back, but I could pay it forward."
So far, between 30 and 40 people have reserved pieces, as well as institutions like the Minnesota Historical Society, the City of Minneapolis, the University of St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota's engineering school. Whatever isn't claimed by Thanksgiving will be sold for scrap -- all 9 million pounds.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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