by Joe Alain

This content is part of a series.

Grace for the Far Away (2 of 14)
Series: Acts
Joe Alain
Acts 2:36-41 (Focal verse, 39)

We've all made mistakes, bad decisions, things we regret. And sometimes we can't seem to shake those past regrets, they continue to haunt us. One night in September of 1993 still haunts Willie Odom. You see, Willie was a barge pilot aboard the tugboat, the Mauvilla out of Mobile, AL. Hours before dawn on September 22, 1993, Odom, blinded by thick fog, lack of proper training, and inexperience, made a wrong turn and steered the tugboat into an unnavigable channel of water just northeast of Mobile and struck a railroad-bridge piling. The impact bent the tracks more than three feet.

He didn't realize that he was off-course. At the time because the fog was so thick, he thought that he had run aground. Five minutes later, just before 3 a.m., Amtrack's Sunset Limited, carrying 220 passenger and crew from Los Angeles to Miami, fatefully slammed into the damaged rails. The lead engine sailed off the bridge and buried its nose 40 feet in the underwater mud. Others cars caught fire or sank. Forty-seven people died, another 103 were injured in the worst wreck in Amtrack's history.

He would later testify that after he saw the bridge, he said, "Oh, my Lord, I done made the wrong turn." That day still haunts Willie. The nearby train's whistle and wheels where he lives cut through his sleep, and he sees again the fog outside his tugboat's wheelhouse and the little line on his radar screen lying in bed, he can feel the bump. He sees the bridge and the fire. He sees the bodies in the water. He stays asleep if he's taken his pill, but his screams wake his daughter and his grandchildren.

Willie's lost a lot of weight, has stomach ulcers and takes antidepressants every day. Some days he just stays in bed. He doesn't talk about that night. But in one interview five years after the accident he said, "I wish I never had that accident . . . I used to tell my mother, 'I should take me a ...

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