Saint Paul, MN

William Lucas and the Accidental, Death-Defying Fall Off of the St. Paul High Bridge

Matt Reicher
VIEW TO NORTHWEST, SHOWING RECONSTRUCTED SPAN NO. 1 ON LEFT - Smith Avenue High Bridge, Smith Avenue between Cherokee Avenue & Cliff Street,Library of Congress

ST. PAUL, MN - On Tuesday, January 23, 1962, twenty-five-year-old William Lucas accidentally drove his car off the side of the St. Paul High Bridge. He fell one-hundred and fifty feet to the railroad tracks below. Miraculously, Lucas not only lived to tell the tale, but walked away from his death-defying experience with only minor injuries.

Lucas, a bartender at the Town House Bar on University Avenue, was on his way to a friend’s house driving south on Smith Avenue to cross the High Bridge into West St. Paul. At 4:50 PM, as he approached the bridge, something went terribly wrong.

His steering wheel locked up. Before Lucas could hit the brakes, the car slid across a patch of ice, broke through a west guard rail, and fell. Knowing there was nothing he could do; he just closed his eyes and dropped to the floor of his 1951 Dodge. Lucas couldn’t bear to look as his car descended end-over-end toward the ground below.

That’s when, depending on your faith, something amazing, miraculous, crazy, etc. happened.

Fifteen feet away from an imminent collision with the ground, the now upside-down car hit two 2.5-inch-thick cables running across utility poles. The cables acted as a rubber band, flipping the car the right direction and significantly lessening the impact when it landed.

Four utility poles snapped, but the lines themselves remained intact.

Lucas’s car, with its free fall broken by the cables, landed on the ground below with the front end sitting on the Chicago Great Western train tracks. He ended up on the floor or the back of the car with his feet sticking out of a door that had opened during the fall. Nearby railway switch-men raced to his aid and stabilized Lucas by taking the backseat cushion out of his car and laying him on it.

Traffic stopped in both directions on the bridge above as onlookers rushed over to the broken guard rail to see what happened. Lucas later recalled looking up at the bridge while he waited for the ambulance and seeing a large crowd of people looking down at him.

Five to ten minutes after being removed from the heap of metal that was once his car, an ambulance arrived and rushed Lucas to nearby Ancker Hospital.

At the hospital doctors diagnosed Lucas with what the newspapers described as a minor head injury. He left after a two-hour hospital stay - albeit against his doctor’s orders, with only a slight concussion, a few cracked ribs, and a sprained ankle.

Lucas soon recovered at returned to a normal life outside of the public eye, one that included hundreds of trips over the same bridge before it was demolished in 1985.

Shockingly, this was not the first time a car had driven off the side of the bridge. Between 1926—1962 four vehicles, including the one Lucas was driving, had fallen off of the High Bridge. Three of the four drivers survived the fall.

William Lucas was among the lucky survivors; however, his car was not. It was totaled. Unfortunately, he’d allowed his auto insurance policy to expire the previous day, so his incredible accident wasn’t covered.
VIEW TO SOUTH, SHOWING WIDENED APPROACH AND SURFACING ON NORTH END - Smith Avenue High Bridge, Smith Avenue between Cherokee Avenue & CliffLibrary of Congress


  • Merryhew, Richard. "Blasting of High Bridge expected to draw thousands." Star Tribune (Minneapolis), February 24, 1985, 17A.
  • Minneapolis Morning Tribune. "Big Drop." January 24, 1962, 21.
  • The Minneapolis Star. "Driver Lives to Tell of 150-ft High Bridge Plunge." January 24, 1962, 1B.

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Hugo, MN

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