Just beyond the bare trees and somber crowd gathered in Riverside Park on Feb. 11, drivers hurtled down Interstate 35. The weather – windy and mild, without a cloud in sight – couldn’t have been more different than Feb. 11, 2021, when roads were impassable due to an enormous car pileup that cost six people their lives.
Exactly one year ago, more than 130 trucks, 18-wheelers and cars lost control on an icy express lane near downtown Fort Worth. Dozens were injured. Michael Wells, Christopher Vardy, Tamara Mendoza, Aaron Watson, Tiffany Gerred and William Williams did not survive the wreckage.
The immense loss of mothers, fathers, daughters and sons was in the air at a memorial service commemorating the one-year anniversary of the accident. One by one, Fort Worth leaders stepped onto a makeshift stage to honor the victims, their family members and the first responders who spent hours in freezing weather to bring drivers to safety.
Mayor Mattie Parker proclaimed it Fort Worth First Responders Day, a nod to the citywide event organized by the Gerred family. As part of FW 2.11, dozens of volunteers delivered “Hero Packs” of snacks and handwritten notes to firehouses, police stations and EMT hubs across Fort Worth.
“We’re here because the families of the folks (who died in) this accident one year ago today wanted to pay some form of tribute to the first responders community in Fort Worth and our regional partners,” said Fort Worth fire chief James Davis. “But it’s only right for us to say to you, as family, we appreciate it, but we want to be here for you … This is about your community saying: ‘We are with you.’”
The city has installed two park benches to remember the victims and provide a space for families and first responders to reflect near the accident site.
Grieving family members shared their journeys since the day they learned that their loved ones had died. Marielena de Freites spoke in Spanish about how she has faced enormous pain and confusion since losing her mother, Tamara Mendoza.
“With time, although the pain was the same, I was able to understand that a year ago, my beautiful mother became an angel, my guardian angel,” de Freites said. “I have faith that she will continue to visit me in my dreams. One day, I will achieve everything that she and I wanted to do together but no longer can.”
Cindy Gerred, whose daughter Tiffany died on Feb. 11, 2021, said she asked God for help in facing the anniversary, the thought of which made her nauseous.
“He laid on my heart to give back, to give back with gratitude and appreciation to those who were there that day, those who worked selflessly in the freezing weather, some of them for 12 hours or more through the night,” she said, standing next to Tiffany’s daughter Emri. “Even in the worst of circumstances, God puts people in our paths that help us through our unimaginable loss.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.