The remains of the last person missing after a bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River have been found, authorities said Aug. 20, bringing the official death toll to 13 and relief to the only family still awaiting word on a missing loved one.
Gregory Jolstad, nicknamed “Jolly,” was on the construction crew that was resurfacing the bridge when it fell Aug. 1 during the evening rush hour. Jolstad, was driving a skid loader.
Divers had gone back in the water early Aug. 20, and Jolstad’s wife, Lisa Jolstad, had said officials vowed to continue until they found her husband.
The recovery, announced by the Hennepin County medical examiner, ends the search for bodies and allows construction crews to proceed with removing the collapsed pieces of the bridge.
“There aren’t a lot of smiles here tonight,” said Sheriff Rich Stanek, who was overseeing the search. “We all have very heavy hearts. It weighed on a lot of people, both personally and professionally.”
Stanek said that he spoke with Lisa Jolstad about the recovery and that “she appreciated very much both the dignity and respect we afforded those families.”
Gregory Jolstad was one of 18 construction workers on the bridge working for Progressive Contractors Inc. (PCI) The other 17 survived the collapse. Seven suffered injuries, but none critical.
Jolstad had worked for PCI for 10 years, often commuting 90 mi. one way to jobs in the Twin Cities from his home in the central Minnesota town of Mora.
Lisa and Greg Jolstad were married in 1995 and lived with Lisa’s three teenage children from a previous marriage in a 97-year-old farmhouse north of town where Greg Jolstad grew up.
“Greg never wanted to venture far from home,” Lisa Jolstad said.
A tax assessor currently between jobs, Lisa Jolstad is living for now on her husband’s paycheck, which PCI continued to issue, as well as paying for grief counselors for family members.
“Everyone at the company is just heartsick for Greg’s family,” said David Lillehaug, PCI’s attorney.
Lisa Jolstad said earlier that she was trying to keep occupied by getting the farmhouse ready for winter.
“I sit home every night, and I just can’t believe he’s not coming home,” she said. “I look out the back door window and it’s weird not to see his truck out there. I look out the bathroom window at the sky and know he’s up there, and I say, you know, why did you have to leave, Greg?”
Also, Gov. Tim Pawlenty asked President Bush to declare the collapse a major disaster, which would make the state eligible for more federal money. The governor said the emergency response costs alone would be more than $8 million.
The cause of the collapse is still under investigation.
Documents obtained by the Star Tribune reveal details of how officials decided to conduct periodic inspections of the bridge rather than repair it in the months before it crumbled.
According to the internal state Department of Transportation documents, officials were ready Dec. 6 to go ahead with a plan to install steel plates at several areas on the bridge as a patchwork fix amid reports that it was structurally deficient, as recommended by an outside consulting firm. The project was shelved after the state determined the process could actually weaken the bridge.
Instead, officials decided in January to go with periodic safety inspections that would look for any cracks in the beams that would warrant emergency repair. Senior engineer Gary Peterson said contractor URS Inc. assured them that any cracks could be detected before they posed a serious safety risk.
Inspections of 52 steel beams began in May but were suspended when concrete repairs began earlier this summer.
The inspection strategy also was deemed to be more cost effective, but Peterson and state bridge engineer Dan Dorgan denied that money played a role.
Engineers were to have met Aug. 20 to discuss whether the inspections were effective or if they had to go back to the plating idea.
“You can’t help but ask yourself ... what should have been done differently,’’ Dorgan said. “As an engineer you can’t be at peace until the cause is found. And even then I have doubts that will bring peace.’’