Twister hits skyway bridge

Twister at Sunshine Skyway
-Tyler Kapela

Florida Press Association logoTAMPA BAY – Sunday morning, Jeannie Bystrom, Ally Titsworth, Matt Dwyer and Ben Stasurak left Holmes Beach by boat, planning on spending the day rescuing pelicans.

In a strange turn of events, they also wound up rescuing U.S. mail that had flown out of a semi-trailer that had been struck by a waterspout while on the Skyway Bridge.

The tractor-trailer was northbound on I-275 on a lower portion of bridge when the waterspout struck between 9:45 and 10 a.m. The trailer was heavily damaged, but its driver, Randall Leaver, suffered only minor bruises.

“We were out there rescuing pelicans. It was crazy,” Bystrom said. “We were out where the fishing pier connects to the causeway, so we were close to the waterspout, but we had the pier to cover us. If it looked dangerous, we were going to take the boat underneath the bridge. We saw it from a distance when it hit the truck. We saw a ton of mail flying all around the sky. We shot across the causeway and under the bridge and there was mail all over the bay.”

Dwyer said, “We were approaching the bridge and saw a lot of debris in the water. We were searching for pelicans, but we soon found out the area was covered in mail, packages and envelopes. Everything you could imagine being in a mail truck was floating in the water.”

Bystrom called her nephew, Brian Hall, a detective with the Holmes Beach Police Department, and asked who they should contact about the mail.

“He said he would make the call for me,” Bystrom said. “Everyone knew the twister had hit the truck, but did they know that it picked the mail up and scattered it all over the place?”

“We picked up as much as we could get,” Dwyer said. “We handed it to the police officers at first and later on we handed more mail to FWC. We were finding checks for $60, for $100 floating around, and the FWC guys said they found a check for either $21,000 or $2,100.”

Added Bystrom: “We collected mail for a while and then decided to go back to rescuing birds because we only had so much time. But then we came back and there were Marine Patrol officers out there collecting the mail. We helped them out some more before we headed back to the house.

“Ally pulled out three or four corrugated bins with lids still attached that were full of mail. We had our dip nets and we pulled out a bunch more. There were pictures, baby pictures, a title to a car, birthday cards… You name it, it was in the water. There were notifications from attorneys; there was one lady responding to a foreclosure notice on her home and giving the reasons she doesn’t think her house should be foreclosed,” she explained.

“I’m just wondering what’s going to happen when all these people think their mail was sent and it never made it? It’s kind of sad. There was also a chain link fence plastered with mail.”

When asked if she saw any Anna Maria, Holmes Beach or Bradenton Beach addresses, Bystrom said, “I didn’t notice any Island mail.”

Dwyer said, “A lot of it was for Palmetto, Fort Myers, Tampa, and out of state; and I saw a few for Canada.”

Don’t Cut the Line

In addition to their mail rescue efforts, the quartet also rescued a pelican that had a treble hook embedded in its chest and was wrapped in fishing line. Bystrom and her Don’t Cut the Line volunteers go out every Sunday as part of their ongoing efforts to rescue pelicans and other seabirds that get ensnared in fishing line. They advise those who fish to reel the birds in and remove the hooks rather than simply cutting the lines and putting them in grave danger of future entanglement.

Learn more about these efforts by visiting Don’t Cut the Line on Facebook.