Saint Paul, MN

William Lucas and the Accidental Drive Over the Smith Avenue High Bridge (January 23, 1962)

The Streets of St. Paul
Smith Avenue High Bridge, Smith Avenue between Cherokee Avenue & Cliff Street, Saint Paul, Ramsey County, MNPhoto byHistoric American Engineering Record (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 Smith Avenue High Bridge. He fell between seventy-five and 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 relatively minor injuries.

Lucas, a bartender at the Town House Bar on University Avenue, was driving south on Smith Avenue to cross into West St. Paul. He was on his way to a friend's house. As Lucas approached the bridge at 4:50 PM, something went horribly wrong.

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

That's when, depending on your faith, something amazing, miraculous, or unbelievable happened.

Fifteen feet 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 vehicle over and significantly lessening the impact when it hit the ground. When the car landed, it flipped over again.

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

With its free fall broken by the cables, the car now sat upside down with its front end laying on the Chicago Great Western train tracks. Lucas was in the back with his feet sticking out of a door that had opened during the fall. Nearby railway switchmen immediately raced to his aid, taking a backseat cushion out of the car and laying Lucas on it until an ambulance arrived.

Traffic in both directions on the high bridge had stopped as onlookers rushed to the broken guard rail to see what had happened. Lucas later recalled looking toward the bridge and seeing a large crowd of people staring back down at him.

Only five to ten minutes after being removed from the heap of metal that he once called his car, Lucas was in the back of an ambulance and on the way to nearby Ancker Hospital.

Doctors there diagnosed him with what local newspapers later described as a minor head injury. Lucas left the hospital after a short two-hour stay—albeit against his doctor's orders. He had a slight concussion, a few cracked ribs, and a sprained ankle.

Lucas soon recovered fully and returned to a normal life, 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 over the side of the High Bridge. Between 1926—1962, four vehicles, including the one Lucas was driving, had crashed through bridge guardrails. Three of the four drivers survived the fall.

While Lucas survived his ordeal, his car was not as lucky. The car was totaled. To make matters worse, he'd allowed his auto policy to expire the previous day, so insurance did not cover his incredible accident.


  • 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.

Comments / 0

Published by

Writing about the history of St. Paul, MN.

Hugo, MN

More from The Streets of St. Paul

Comments / 0