On the drive home from his parents’ home on Easter Sunday, Richard Humble had to pull over.
He was panicking. It was like it was happening all over again. One moment he was riding shotgun with his best friend Alexa Duran, and the next he was trapped under a twisted hunk of car crushed by Florida International University’s brand new 950-ton pedestrian bridge. He was able to escape the car. Duran did not. At 18, she was the youngest of the six victims of the collapse.
It took Humble 20 minutes before he could drive again on Easter Sunday, an activity that these days leaves him full of anxiety and dread. He said he has flashbacks at least every other day, and he’s had to drop all but one of his FIU classes.
“There’s not a single day that I don’t think about it,” he told reporters at a press conference Monday to discuss the negligence lawsuit he and his family filed Thursday.
Even on the drive to the Coral Gables offices of his law firm, he said, he passed under an arch and had a physical reaction.
“Something in me was like, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t risk it,’” he said. “All it needs is a trigger and it’s out of my hands.”
The physical reminders of that terrible day — a fractured back, knee and neck issues — have mostly faded. The memories will never leave him.
Humble,19, had a terrible fever the night before the bridge collapse and could “barely walk,” he said. Duran saw her friend in distress and offered to take him to the doctor the next day to pick up a prescription. Like always, Humble said, when he asked her for the favor she responded with one of her catchphrases: “Of course, my horse.”
On the way back home they stopped at a red light next to campus. They were talking about plans for the next day, maybe a movie, when Humble heard a loud crack.
He looked up and saw an unbelievable sight — the bridge was falling on top of them. Before he could say anything other than “Alexa,” the roof of the SUV crumbled, pinning him down. He couldn’t see her past the warped metal. He screamed her name again, but she didn’t respond.
“I had her blood on me and I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I saw her hair and nothing else.”
Eventually, someone shoved a beam of wood into the car and forced a door open so Humble could escape. Outside the car he kept calling his friend’s name over and over. Eventually, in hysterics, he called his mom, Lourdes Humble.
“All I could hear was sirens and Richie screaming and screaming,” she said. “I was having chest pains. I had to pass the phone to my husband. I knew I needed to get my purse and go to him.”
She and her husband, Charles Humble, didn’t even hear the news of the collapse until they switched on the radio in their car. They immediately shut it off as they drove to get their son at Kendall Regional Hospital.
Life has been hard since they took him home. His mother said it’s “very difficult” to see your 19-year-old son curled up in the fetal position in the shower screaming and crying day after day.
“Who would believe this would happen?” she asked.
The family’s lawyer, Stuart Grossman of Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, said he aims to find out why and how it did. His firm employed a team of expert bridge engineers to explore, among other questions, why the road was left open to traffic while tests were conducted and why the contract was given to a construction firm with no experience building this specific type of bridge.
“I want to know if politics is behind it or if it’s one screw-up after another,” Grossman said. “How this was overlooked I have no idea, but we’ll find out. I promise you we’ll find out.”
In a statement, Munilla Construction Management said the firm has “extensive experience building post tension bridges and MCM is pre-qualified by the FDOT for major post tension bridge construction.”
Humble’s suit is one of a slew against the firms behind the bridge, including a wrongful death suit from Duran’s family filed Friday.
Additional lawsuits have been filed by the family of 60-year-old Rolando Fraga, a systems technician crushed by the bridge; 22-year-old FIU student and collapse survivor Emily Joy Panagos; and 24-year-old Marquise Rashaad Hepburn, who was injured when a car avoiding the collapse swerved and hit him while he rode a bike.