Body of last missing victim of bridge collapse found

Greg Jolstad
Greg Jolstad is a construction worker who fell into the Mississippi River when the I-35W bridge collapsed.
Photo courtesy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press

(AP) The remains of the last person missing after a bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River nearly three weeks ago have been found, authorities said Monday, bringing the official death toll to 13 and relief to the only family still awaiting word on a missing loved one.

Gregory Jolstad, nicknamed "Jolly," was on the construction crew that was resurfacing the Interstate 35W bridge when it fell Aug. 1 during the evening rush hour. Jolstad, 45, was driving a skid loader, commonly known by the brand name Bobcat.

"There aren't a lot of smiles here tonight," said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who was overseeing the search. "We all have very heavy hearts. It weighed on a lot of people, both personally and professionally."

Divers found Jolstad's body around 6:15 p.m. Monday, Stanek said. The discovery ends what has been called the recovery phase, clearing the way for contractors to begin moving the massive pieces of bridge wreckage lying in the river and along its banks.

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An official with the Minnesota Department of Transportation said Monday night that the agency hoped crews would have much of the debris cleared on the south side of the river by the end of the week, and hoped to have the river channel open soon.

Stanek didn't close the door on the possibility of more remains turning up, though everyone listed as missing has now been found. Teams from the Sheriff's Office will maintain a presence at the bridge site, but the Navy dive teams brought in to locate the hard-to-find remains will leave town within the next day or so.

Also Monday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty asked President Bush to declare the collapse a major disaster, which would make the state eligible for more federal money. The governor said the emergency response costs alone would be more than $8 million.

Bush was scheduled to be in Minneapolis on Tuesday and to get a briefing on the bridge.

Jolstad was one of 18 construction workers on the bridge working for Progressive Contractors Inc. The other 17 survived the collapse. Seven suffered injuries, but none critical.

He had worked for PCI for 10 years, often commuting 90 miles one way to road jobs in the Twin Cities from his home in the central Minnesota town of Mora.

Greg Jolstad married his wife, Lisa, in 1995, and they lived with Lisa's three teenage children from a previous marriage in a 97-year-old farmhouse north of town where Greg Jolstad grew up.

"Greg never wanted to venture far from home," Lisa Jolstad said earlier.

No one answered the phone late Monday at the Jolstad home. Stanek said that he spoke to Lisa Jolstad after the discovery and that she expressed her gratitude for the dignity with which searchers undertook their mission.

Her worst fear since the collapse was that her husband would still be missing after all the other victims of the disaster had been found - and that's exactly what happened.

A tax assessor currently between jobs, Lisa Jolstad is living for now on her husband's paycheck, which PCI continued to issue, as well as paying for grief counselors for family members.

"Everyone at the company is just heartsick for Greg's family," said David Lillehaug, PCI's attorney.

Lisa Jolstad said earlier that she was trying to keep occupied by getting the farmhouse ready for winter.

"I sit home every night, and I just can't believe he's not coming home," she said. "I look out the back door window and it's weird not to see his truck out there. I look out the bathroom window at the sky and know he's up there, and I say, you know, why did you have to leave, Greg?"