57 years ago today, one of Bremerton’s ‘greatest tragedies’

12219344_10206714501574953_2526487136508807726_n

A man peers over the edge of the exposed bridge, looking into the water below. It’s a terrible scene, the aftermath of a 1957 Pontiac hardtop busting through the railing of the Warren Avenue Bridge and plunging into the Port Washington Narrows.

At the time, it was called one of the area’s “greatest tragedies” by the Bremerton Sun. On Dec. 14, 1958 — 57 years ago today — three young men fell to their deaths in that car, mere weeks after the Warren Avenue Bridge opened.

The bodies of Gary Lee Hill, 22, and Joseph E. Jenkins, Jr., 21, were recovered with the car right after it happened. But it would take almost a month more to locate the third, that of Gerald R. “Robbie” Clark, 20, who’d been driving the car.

Simply put, the crash shocked the community around the holidays in a newly made two-bridge town.

 

“The bridge had just opened, and everyone was regaling in it,” recalls Marlene Johnson Casmaer, a former Manette resident who was only about 10 at the time. “The Manette Bridge was kind of scary, and had a darkness to it. The new bridge was so modern looking, bright and airy.”

Only the new, $5 million bridge’s railings were clearly not made to withstand a car. Only a few years ago, the state installed concrete barriers to prevent that from happening. The bridge may be changed again soon to promote greater pedestrian access.

But mere weeks after the bridge first opened on Nov. 25, 1958, the three plunged to their deaths. There were allegations that drag racing preceded the crash. In any event, the incident also sparked an eerie quest to find Clark’s body to help bring about some closure, Johnson Casmaer said. Today, it reminds her of the movie “Stand by Me.”

Rota3

“There’d be people looking all over the beach each day,” she said.  “That’s what Bremerton became like. Who would be the first to find him?

“It was beyond devastating,” she said.

From the Bremerton Sun on Jan. 19, 1959, after Clark’s body was recovered:

“The body of the handsome lad, found Saturday afternoon on the beach of Port Washington narrows below Bay Bowl, was buried near his father who died only a year ago … Terry and Mike Chandler, 14- and 10-year-old sons of Mr. and Mrs. Dale Chandler, 1303 Magnuson Way, stumbled onto the body as they were playing … ‘I thought it was Robbie Clark’s body,’ Terry said, ‘so I ran up to the Bay Bowling alley and told them.'”

Sadly, the bridge has claimed many more lives over the years since those three. Mick McKinley, a retired Bremerton assistant fire chief, recalled one time when crews were training in a boat below the bridge. A man jumped from the span not far from their boat.

“We pulled him in under 20 seconds,” he said.

If you have more information or photographs from newspaper coverage of this tragedy, please send them my way and I will update this post.

 

7 thoughts on “57 years ago today, one of Bremerton’s ‘greatest tragedies’

    1. I remember the accident well. I knew all of them. I knew Gary Hill the best and to my recollection he had just returned home after a 2 year hitch in the military.

      Larry O’Neal
      Spokane

  1. Josh, I was nearly 11 when that body was found. Those two boys must have been horrified at the sight of a body that had been in the water for weeks. I am thankful to have been spared the experience. Had it surfaced during the week I may well have been the one to discover it. My dad owned Olson and Cox Mobil as station next to Bay Bowl. I walked there every weekday after attending school at Olympic View Elementary and every day I went down to play on the beach behind Bay Bowl. There was a stairway right behind Pete’s Longhouse leading down. I had even built a little fort below the bowling alley. My dad told me to stay away from the beach the next week. None of this is important to the story. Just had to relate how I was blessed to miss the horror.

  2. My friend Reatha Vickers and one of her friends went off the Warren Ave bridge in the early 1980’s. They were being chased by BPD, Reatha was driving from west Bremerton she loss control and went over the right side of the bridge….they were both young and the passenger had children.

    1. I remember that well. February 1982 if we are talking about the same accident. I came across an old newspaper clipping of it awhile back ago. I was neighbors with the passenger at the time and she had a son a little younger than me I believe (I was 9 at the time).

  3. I remember that day !
    My mom worked at Ted’s Lunch .
    When she came home that day , she told us boys she had served those boys their ” last ” meal ……
    I remember seeing the twisted railing and the hollow feeling of shock and disbelief of that fatal day !
    Their was a toll booth and did a hotrod take off screamed up the bridge and lost control of the car smashed through the railing , and plunged into the Washington Narrows far below to their untimely deaths ….. Sadness !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

Enter the word yellow here: