Crime - Sacto 911

Ask Sacto 911 crime Q&A: What happened to Tower Bridge operator blamed for vehicle’s fatal plunge into river?

Whatever happened to the Tower Bridge operator whose negligence resulted in a car driving off the bridge and killing, I believe, three people?

– Curious, Sacramento

Michael Foster Souza was the bridgetender at the Tower Bridge the night of Sept. 19, 1987, when a pickup truck plunged into the Sacramento River.

Souza pleaded no contest to a single count of involuntary manslaughter for opening the drawbridge without activating the proper warning signals. According to stories in The Sacramento Bee, he was found to have a blood-alcohol reading of 0.18, twice the legal limit for intoxication, after the fatal accident, which occurred while he was at the controls of the bridge apparatus.

The pickup truck was driven by Pati Fink, 51. She died along with a passenger, James Shaughnessy, 36, and an unidentified man, believed to be a transient, who reportedly dived into the river to try to rescue the victims. Another woman, Chris Whittacker, was riding in the bed of the truck and was rescued.

The bridge had been raised to allow a tour boat to pass underneath it. Investigators determined that Souza overrode the safety controls to raise the bridge without the usual crossing arms, lights and audible signals that ordinarily prevent motorists from driving onto the bridge when it is open. Souza had been on the job about a month and was fired by the state Department of Transportation shortly after the accident.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Souza was permitted to enter a work furlough program instead of serving jail time. He was removed from the program after violating rules and required to serve the final months of his one-year sentence in jail.