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Mourning those who didn't make it home

Minneapolis searchers pull a fifth victim from the bridge wreckage. Eight people are still thought missing.

August 04, 2007|Garrett Therolf and Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writers

MINNEAPOLIS — One new widow spent Friday in the purple living room she painted with her husband, wondering how she could raise their two small children without him.

Thirty miles away, another widow moved solemnly through her day, scheduling a memorial, deciding which suit to bury her husband in, and worrying how she would collect enough money to send his body home to Santa Lucia, Mexico.

Their husbands died along with three other people on the Interstate 35W bridge that caved into the Mississippi River on Wednesday. The two women spent Friday, like other families of the dead and missing, trying to make sense of it all.

"He was the love of my life," said Jennifer Holmes, whose husband, Patrick, 36, had left his job as an exercise therapist early on Wednesday and was on his way to pick up their kids from day care. "I just can't imagine being without my best friend."

As families mourned Friday, rescuers continued to search the treacherous water filled with glass and debris, pulling a fifth victim from the wreckage. First Lady Laura Bush visited the scene in the morning, speaking with victims and emergency responders.

Meanwhile, the investigation into what led to the collapse continued.

Mark Rosenker, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, announced at a news conference that the south end of the bridge slid 50 feet to the east when it collapsed, and the north end fell straight down. Investigators were studying video footage that might offer more clues to the collapse.

State transportation officials said that in the spring they had halted an inspection of crucial parts of the bridge. The inspections, recommended by a consultant in January, were suspended to allow roadwork on the bridge's surface. They were due to resume in the fall.

Inspectors had found no flaws in the half of the bridge they examined, said Jeanne Aamodt, a spokeswoman for the state transportation department. "Everything passed muster," she said.

By Friday afternoon, the number of people reported missing had dropped significantly -- to as few as eight, from about 30 -- as authorities discovered that many were alive, including one woman who showed up to work on Friday.

But the search continued into the late evening for Sadiya Sahal, 23, and her 2-year-old daughter, Hana.

Sahal, five months pregnant, last called her family at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and said she was starting to cross the bridge. About 30 minutes later, the structure collapsed.

Her husband, Mohammed, who reported her missing, remains in seclusion.

"He's having a very difficult time," said Omar Jamal, director of the Somali Justice Center in Minneapolis, who spoke for the family. "It's very difficult, the fact that we don't know what's going on."

Others found some solace knowing the bodies of their loved ones had been recovered and were not trapped beneath concrete somewhere. But that didn't ease the grief.

Holmes learned that her husband died instantly when a sign fell on his car and crushed him.

The hardest part, she said, is losing someone she had known most of her life. They met in high school in the cafeteria, and married almost 10 years later. The couple had had bought a home in Mounds View, a quiet community about 25 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, where Jennifer Holmes planted hostas and bleeding hearts in the garden that her husband helped her grow.

Jennifer's mother, Mary Ann Vollhaber, said she knew her daughter had loved Patrick since they were teenagers because she would ask her to give him rides to his baseball games. After they married and became parents themselves, Patrick Holmes spent hours coaching his two children, now 4 and 6, in the sport.

Vollhaber worried about her grandchildren. Jennifer "told them that he had died and he was up in heaven with Grandpa," she said.

In Minneapolis, Abundia Martinez, 31, was deciding between a powder-blue suit and a dark caballero-style ensemble in which to dress husband Artemio Trinidad, 29, for his funeral.

The couple has two daughters and a son in Mexico and a 2-month-old daughter, Lorena, in Minneapolis, who will be baptized at the end of her father's funeral Mass.

Relatives said Trinidad had lived in Minneapolis for 13 years but returned occasionally to Mexico, where his parents lived with the three children. Trinidad supported them with wages earned selling cars and, most recently, delivering and selling produce for a Mexican market supplier, New York Plaza Produce.

Nieves Riera, an owner of the store, paused at the register and touched her chest. "My heart is too small," she said, "to fully express how much he will be missed and how big a person he was."

Riera said Trinidad came to work at 8 a.m. Wednesday and went to buy bread in time for the warehouse workers to gather around a table for coffee. She teased him that he was getting fat, and he stretched his arms up and explained that all his customers offered him carnitas, nopales and sodas and he ate all day.

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