Lewis family remember 40th anniversary of fatal Red River bridge crash

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CLARKSVILLE, TN (CLARKSVILLENOW) – The hearts of a Reverend of Clarksville and his family continue to beat for three generations, nearly four decades after their tragic deaths.

On July 5, 1981, the Reverend Roy L. Lewis and his family were on their way to Tullahoma. Lewis, 57 at the time, was preparing to give an essay sermon in a church that morning and was part of a three-car trailer in the southern region of Middle Tennessee.

Members of the Lewis family prepare to drop four white roses in the Red River. (Blaine Kellar)

Within 5 miles of their Clarksville home, Lewis’s car skidded across the North Second Street Bridge, causing the vehicle to fair in the Red River. Lewis, his wife Delores, their son Patrick and his mother Laquel were all killed.

The bridge – which was separate at the time of the incident – was restructured and named Lewis Memorial Bridge in honor of the Reverend and his family.

On Saturday, July 3, family and friends came from as far away as Tacoma, Wash., To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the sinking that claimed four of their loved ones.

Many people today cannot remember this incident, which happened before most of the residents of Clarksville were born.

“They don’t know the story,” said Schelese Lewis Ogburn, daughter of Roy Lewis. “They cross the bridge every day and see the name, but they don’t know the story behind it. To have the opportunity to come and show our young people (and) our community that (there were) some really important people that we loved, who (were) vital to the community, that we were able to share again our love for them.

“It hurts. It stings again, but God just kept me.

Organization of the event

Ogburn began coordinating the event with a phone call to Juanita Smith, another relative who lives in Florida. After a night of prayer, Smith contacted Gene and Joseph Lewis, two of the Reverend’s six living siblings.

“A lot of us (lived) in the military or worked in the United States, and getting the phone call this Sunday morning was devastating,” said Joseph Lewis. “By the grace of God, we have been able to cope for 40 years. “

The Saturday morning ceremony began with those present crossing the bridge. The Clarksville Police Department closed a lane of traffic for the family, who have had several members on the service over the years.

Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts, Shirley Lewis, Ogburn, Gene Lewis and others then shared mementos of those who died. A song of the hymn “We’ve Come This Far by Faith”, a time of prayer and the laying of a commemorative wreath were also done in honor of the family.

The event ended with the fall of four white roses in the Red River, signifying each person lost in the accident.

“It’s so vital that we as a community respect, honor and love each other,” Ogburn said. “People matter, we matter, friends matter, work matters, work matters, everything matters; but we are nothing without the other.


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