MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Some of his construction friends say he’s crazy, but one survivor of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse is seeking closure by working to build the new span across the Mississippi River.
Jeff Ringate was working construction on the bridge when it collapsed Aug. 1. He fell approximately 115 ft. (35 m) with the old bridge, and has horrible flashbacks to the tragedy.
But for reasons he can’t quite explain, Ringate said he needs to help build the new bridge. He said he’s the only construction worker who fell in the collapse to return to work there.
“I look at it as a memorial,” he said in a report in the Feb. 16 edition of the Star Tribune.
He also said the site helps him feel closer to his friend and fellow construction worker Greg Jolstad, one of 13 people who died in the collapse.
“It just seems right to me to go work there,” said Ringate.
Some of his construction buddies told him he’s crazy, and others say they won’t cross the new bridge. Ringate admits that moving forward is hard, but he’s trying.
“I can still flashback to when it fell. … I can be there. I can hear the sounds and I can feel that way,” he said. “I remember it all just as plain as day, but I don’t try to think about that.”
On Aug. 1, Ringate recalled, he, Jolstad and other workers were preparing to pour a layer of roadway. Ringate got onto a small construction truck in the center of the bridge to move it out of the way.
Then the road shook and Ringate felt his stomach drop. He said he knew right then that the bridge was collapsing.
He fell, gripping the truck’s steering wheel and thinking of his pregnant wife and their infant daughter. When the bridge landed, Ringate was amazed to be alive — stranded on a broad span of concrete in the river.
He saw a co-worker in the water and used a construction broom to pull the man in. He began helping others, pulling in as many people as he could. He helped one man out from tangled debris with his bare hands.
Almost all of his co-workers were accounted for, except Jolstad — whose body wasn’t found for several weeks. Ringate said he went to the funeral, but it didn’t give him closure.
Jolstad, whom everyone knew as “Jolly,” managed to make his co-workers smile even on the worst days.
“I really looked up to Jolly, and he was a really good friend of mine,” Ringate said. “He’d been around everything. He could do anything. … He was a really hard worker and really someone to look up to and learn from.”
Ringate was injured in the collapse and stayed home for months with a hurt neck and back.
As soon as the doctor cleared him in January, Ringate signed up to work on the new I-35W bridge.
Now, he manages a warehouse of parts and equipment. Sometimes he helps outside, where concrete mixer trucks back in and out, forming gigantic bridge piers.
Ringate said the construction project is a positive atmosphere; workers have a “let’s get this thing up” attitude.
Once the piers are in and there is work to do on the highest points of the new span, Ringate wants to be up there.
“I’d like to see this thing get done and get that road back opened up, and move on,” he said. “I think this will give me ultimate closure.”