A disabled jeweler narrowly escaped death, again, on Aug. 1, when Minnesota’s Interstate 35W bridge collapsed beneath his van.
Marcelo Cruz, 26, is paralyzed from waist down since being shot while aiding a friend seven years ago. He was driving his specially equipped van across the 40-year-old bridge in downtown Minneapolis, above the Mississippi River, on his way to wheelchair-marathon training, in bumper-to-bumper evening rush hour traffic. Suddenly, at 6:01 pm, he later told reporters, the bridge “started shaking like an earthquake.” The section ahead of him collapsed, throwing almost 20 cars in front 60 feet down into the fast-flowing Mississippi.
Cruz tried to apply his van’s brakes, but the vehicle wouldn’t stop and kept rolling toward the edge of the broken bridge. “I thought I was going to die,” Cruz said to reporters.
Thinking quickly, he turned his steering wheel hard right, crashing the van into the bridge’s outer barrier and stopping only 15 feet from the broken edge over the river.
As people screamed for help, two men who saw what happened yelled at him to get out of the van. “I can’t,” Cruz told them. “I’m in a wheelchair.” Without hesitation, the two ran down the steep slope to the van and hauled him and his wheelchair out of it. Police and bystanders then pulled him up onto the riverbank.
“God saved my life a second time,” said Cruz later, recalling the time years earlier when he was shot.
Cruz, a resident of Crystal, Minn., has worked for two years as an apprentice goldsmith to the senior goldsmith at Arthur’s Jewelers in Roseville, Minn., an award-winning family-owned business and the largest jewelry store in the state of Minnesota.
Since the incident, “we’ve had many local and national news reporters call or come in [the store],” said Marilyn Nogai, co-owner of Arthur’s Jewelers with her husband Frank, to JCK. “Katie Couric, of CBS, sent someone [to interview Cruz] and the Make-a-Wish Foundation wants him to speak to children on how they can turn their lives around despite their disabilities,” Nogai said.
“Repairs are piling up in the store” while the media pull Cruz away from his work, she said, laughing, “but we don’t mind. He’s a wonderful, humble young man, who supports his mother. He has a good personality, a deep faith in God, and a positive attitude, even though he has no use of his legs, which he lost trying to help a friend years ago. The bullet from that is still in his spine. But he says, ‘This is what life dealt me and I have to make the most of it.’”
Though Cruz survived the bridge collapse, the catastrophe cost him his used Plymouth minivan, modified for handicapped drivers, which he had bought only last December for $14,000, and the custom-made racing wheelchair, which was in it. (Cruz competes in wheelchair marathons and is training for the Twin Cities Marathon in October.)
“He really needs a van modified for wheelchair users,” said Marilyn Nogai, “to get around and to get to work, especially now, because he is the sole support of his mother.”
Arthur’s Jewelers has set up a trust fund to help Cruz buy another conversion van designed for people in wheelchairs. Contributions by those in the jewelry industry and anyone else can be sent to North Star Bank, c/o Marcelo Cruz Trust, 1820 N. Lexington Ave., Roseville, MN 55113. For more information call (651) 489-8811.