Victims bound together by bad timing
Minneapolis, Minn. — A marketing director. An exercise therapist. A produce salesman. A cosmetology student. A truck driver.
Their careers brought them into the city. The Interstate 35W bridge was supposed to carry them out. But they were stuck in rush-hour traffic in the worst possible place at the worst possible time, and now at least 10 children are waiting for parents who will never arrive.
Patrick Holmes, 36, was headed to pick up his 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter from a friend who kept them every Wednesday afternoon while wife Jennifer played golf.
"They probably would have gone home and watched the Twins game or gone outside to play baseball or ride bikes," Jennifer Holmes said Friday.
Her husband had crossed the bridge thousands of times in the five years he'd worked as an exercise therapist in Bloomington. Jennifer can't fathom why this time, it collapsed underneath him, sending vehicles into the water, crushing many under concrete and steel.
"How can you know why?" she wondered. "We don't have control over what happens."
At least five people were killed and about 100 injured, five critically, when the bridge dropped more than 60 feet into the churning Mississippi River.
That includes truck driver Paul Eickstadt, who had just begun work that afternoon, delivering fresh bread products from Roseville to the Sara Lee bakery depot in Mason City, Iowa.
Eickstadt, 51, of Mounds View, was trapped in his vehicle as it burst into flames, dangling between broken concrete slabs. He had worked for Sara Lee since 1993, and the company described him as "a reliable employee who always got the job done."
Eickstadt is survived by a brother and two sisters.
Artemio Trinidad-Mena was the guy everyone liked. He worked as a salesman for a grocery store on Lake St. in Minneapolis.
His bosses say customers would ask to deal exclusively with Trinidad-Mena because he was so good-natured. His kind heartedness was felt by family, too, according to his cousin, Cipriano Diaz.
"He was a good person," said Diaz. "He worked as a produce delivery guy. When he had leftovers, he would give them to us -- like soda, mangos, fruits. And also he'd give us stuff when he went grocery shopping."
Trinidad-Mena, 29, was an immigrant from Guerrero, Mexico. He leaves behind a wife and four children -- three of them back home in Mexico. His cousin Cipriano says the family is devastated by Trinidad-Mena's death.
Reports so far indicate he died from blunt force, but the family is waiting for further details about what exactly happened to Artemio during the bridge collapse.
Cipriano Diaz says the family hopes to repatriate his body.
"We want to send the body this week to Mexico so he can be buried there, and so that his family can see him one last time. But we don't know if we can," Diaz.
Diaz says the Hispanic community has been rallying to the family's aid, offering funds to facilitate the transport of Trinidad-Mena's body.
The body of another bridge collapse victim, Julia Blackhawk, 32, is being transported to Nebraska for an all-night Native American church ceremony. Blackhawk leaves behind two children.
Her uncle, John Blackhawk, a Winnebago Tribal Council member, last saw his niece over Easter. That was when the tribe held a pow-wow, and Julia received an Indian name.
"During Easter, we had a naming for the children, and she also received an Indian name at that time as well. Her name is Thunder Woman," said John Blackhawk. "Our clan is the thunder clan, so we all had thunder clan names."
John Blackhawk says he remembers talking to his niece Julia about her decision to go back to school and study cosmetology at the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis. He was proud of her for that decision, and says she was, in general, a kind person who always showed respect for her elders. But he remembers one thing about her in particular.
"Her smile. When I was told of this and found out what happened, that's what hit me -- I remember the smile she had."
Blackhawk said the all-night prayer service for Julia is scheduled for Saturday and will involve traditional prayer instruments like drums, gourds, eagle feathers and burning cedar.
Sherry Engebretsen had been eager to get home that day. Daughter Anne was leaving for dance camp, and she wanted to say goodbye.
The 60-year-old marketing director had had a bad day, husband Ronald said. Perhaps that's why she skipped her ordinary route to Shoreview, the 10th Ave. bridge, and opted for I-35W.
She spoke to both of her daughters every day, and her last call was to 18-year-old Jessica.
"Nowadays, you hear a lot of stories about parents and kids not getting along," Jessica Engebretsen said. "But we always got along."
Engebretsen's employer, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, has established a memorial fund in her name, which will be used to support scholarships to private colleges and other charities that were important to Engebretsen.
Still missing and presumed dead by her grieving family is Sadiya Sahal, five months pregnant and toting 2-year-old daughter Hanah Mohamed.
Sahal was stuck in traffic at the time the bridge collapsed. The 23-year-old nursing student was on her way to pick up a friend who needed a ride home from work, said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center.
In four wrenching seconds, Mohamed Samal's family vanished.
"He's doing terribly. He's devastated. He's in shock. He can't even talk," Jamal said of the heartbroken mechanic. "He's really in complete disbelief. I don't even have the language to describe it."
Sadiya Sahal moved to Minneapolis from Somalia in 2000 and graduated Washburn High School, Jamal said. She'd been married for just a few years.
(MPR reporter Annie Baxter and the Associated Press provided the material for this story.)
- All Things Considered, 08/03/2007, 5:41 p.m.