It was literally a dark and stormy night in September, 1989. Leslie Ann Pluhar was on her way from her home in Royal Oak, Michigan, to meet her boyfriend in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She knew she was driving faster than she should be, knew because the wind was whipping her boxy little Yugo all over the road. She knew she should slow down, but she was in a hurry. Love always seems to be in too big a hurry.
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For years, the passage between Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsula could only be made by ferries that crossed the five-mile-wide Straits of Mackinac that tie together two huge inland seas, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The ferry ride could be a daunting prospect because the straits were notorious for storms that seemed to come up out of nowhere.
But after decades of wrangling, a magnificent new suspension bridge connecting the two peninsulas was finally completed in 1957. It was an engineering marvel and one of the longest suspensions bridges in the world, and it quickly became a tourist attraction as well as a much-needed assist to transportation.
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By the time Leslie Ann arrived at the bridge, the storm was absolutely raging, and authorities issued warnings to all drivers to avoid attempting to make the crossing. But she chose to ignore the warning.
No one knows for certain, but since traffic was all but non-existent on the bridge, the suspicion is that in her hurry, Leslie Ann was exceeding the 45 mile-per-hour speed limit recommended under normal driving conditions.
But the storm rendered driving conditions far from normal. As Leslie Ann sped across the bridge, a huge gust of wind caught her light, little Yugo, and tossed it effortlessly into the air and over the three-foot-high guardrail. Down, down, down it plunged – 170 feet into the icy water below.
It was eight days before the weather improved enough to attempt a recovery. A dozen State Police divers finally located the vehicle, but due to the extensive damage to it, they were unable to remove Leslie Ann’s body from the vehicle while it was under water. The best they could do was attach the cables to the accordioned car, and it was hoisted unto the deck of the waiting tug with the remains of Leslie Ann Pluher.
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In the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot immortalized one of the many tragedies caused by the sudden, ferocious storms that make the Great Lakes some of the most dangerous waters in the world. They are legendary for the many shipwreck victims they’ve claimed. But this was the first time a Great Lakes storm claimed a victim in a carwreck.
To be kind, one might say Leslie Ann Pluher died for love.
©2009 Tom Cordle