Haunted by marine accidents

All you parents out there know what it’s like when you see your child drive off in a car alone for the first time. No matter how much preparation you’ve done with them, that first time sits in your stomach like a bad pepper until they return unharmed. I always told my kids, and still remind them, that a car can be a deadly weapon if they are not careful and that if they hurt or kill someone, their lives will never be the same.

Yes, I’m just that much fun at home.

I bring this up because WorkBoat’s cover story for the upcoming October International WorkBoat Show issue deals with 10 marine disasters of the past 25 years, and what changes the industry has gone through because of them.

Space and time limitations being what they are, I was not able to get into what happened to some of the mariners that were involved in these accidents that occurred years ago.

For example, Willie Odom was at the controls of the towboat Mauvilla, pushing six barges along the fog-shrouded Mobile River on Sept. 22, 1993. Odom mistakenly guided his tow into Bayou Canot and struck the bayou’s railroad bridge, knocking a bridge girder 38″ out of alignment. Seven minutes later, the Amtrak passenger train Sunset Limited raced onto the bridge at 72 mph. Three of the trains locomotives and four of its cars plunged into the bayou, killing 47 people and injuring 103.

In an interview with Newhouse News Service five years after the accident, his family talks of Odom’s trouble sleeping. And when he does “sleep,” his screams wake his daughter and grandchildren. Odom himself talks about his inability to get his mariner license back and his thoughts of using a gun and ending all his troubles.

Capt. Joe Dedmon lost consciousness in the wheelhouse of the towboat Robert Y. Love in May 2002. The tow he was guiding rammed into the Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River near Webbers Falls, Okla., collapsing a section of the span. Ten cars drove off the bridge and fell into the river, killing 14 people.

Years later, Dedmon’s wife says her husband is not the same man he was before the accident. How could he be?


About the author

Ken Hocke

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.

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