Handicapped Jeweler Survives Bridge Collapse

A disabled jeweler narrowly escaped death on Aug. 1, when Minnesota’s Interstate 35W bridge collapsed beneath his van.

Marcelo Cruz, 26, paralyzed from the waist down since being shot defending a friend years ago, was driving his modified van across the Minneapolis bridge over the Mississippi River during evening rush hour. Suddenly, at 6:01 p.m., it “started shaking up and down, like an earthquake,” he told JCK. It collapsed and dropped cars ahead into the river.

“I tried to stop the car, pulling on the brakes, but it wouldn’t stop,” Cruz told JCK. “I thought I was going to die,” he said later.

Thinking quickly, he steered hard right and crashed the van into concrete barriers along the bridge’s side. It stopped 15 feet from the edge.

Amid the chaos, two bridge workers yelled for him to get out of the van. “I can’t,” Cruz told them. “I’m in a wheelchair.” The workers ran down to the van and carried him and his wheelchair out. Police and bystanders pulled him up the riverbank.

“God saved my life a second time,” Cruz told JCK, referring to when he was shot.

Cruz is an apprentice goldsmith at Arthur’s Jewelers in Roseville, Minn., an award-winning family business and Minnesota’s largest jewelry store. After the collapse, many in the media wanted to talk to Cruz. “We had many journalists call or come in,” said Marilyn Nogai, who owns the store with her husband, Frank. “Katie Couric sent someone. The Make-A-Wish Foundation wants him to tell disabled children how to turn their lives around.” The store itself gathered articles about Cruz in a scrapbook customers can view.

Though Cruz survived the disaster, he lost his secondhand minivan, modified for handicapped drivers, which he bought last December for $14,000, and a racing wheel-chair. (Cruz competes in local wheelchair races, like October’s Twin Cities Marathon.)

“He really needs a vehicle, adapted for wheelchair users, to get around and to get to work,” said Mrs. Nogai. Arthur’s Jewelers started a fund to help Cruz buy one. (Contributions can be sent to North Star Bank, c/o Marcelo Cruz Trust, 1820 N. Lexington Ave., Roseville, MN 55113; 651-489-8811.)

“He’s a humble young man, and his mother’s sole support,” Marilyn Nogai said. “He has a good personality, a deep faith in God, and a positive attitude, even though he lost use of his legs helping a friend years ago. But Marcelo says, ‘This is what life dealt me, and I must make the most of it.’ ”

As for the media attention, Cruz told JCK, “Everything happens for a reason”—but he’ll be glad to return to his normal life and being a jeweler.