Although the wind and rain made it unsafe to conduct the”Hands Across the Bridge” celebration of sobriety and WELL-briety on Sunday, the memory of a young teen who was murdered on the bridge, during a drunken rage, will forever sharpen the focus of the annual event.
After his killer confessed to the deed, as part of his drug rehabilitation program in 2009 “to atone for past wrongs,” Troy Culver of Prineville was sentenced to ten years in prison for the now 23 year old crime. His other two then-teenage “accomplices,” after being given immunity for telling the truth, admitted to the lies the three had perpetuated to cover up the murder.
The three told authorities at the time that they had all gone AWOL from the Angell Job Corps camp near Yachats, acquired a large quantity of beer in Newport and then proceeded to get themselves roaring drunk. During that fateful evening in 1990, Culver got mad at Ackerson and beat him to death, or nearly so. When Ackerson went unconscious after having his head slammed against a tree, Culver panicked and convinced the other two teens to help him carry Ackerson onto the Yaquina Bay Bridge and toss him into the bay – which they did, according to their courtroom testimony.
After the revelation, Ackerson’s family finally learned what had happened to their son. They never believed that he would just run away as speculated by the Job Corps officials and as assumed by law enforcement. Had Culver not taken his drug rehabilitation seriously, the truth may never have been told. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Sergeant Mark Meister had recently re-opened the case and was actively running down leads when word came from a probation officer that a recently paroled sex offender had just confessed to the crime. Suddenly all the pieces fell into place.
District Attorney Rob Bovett told those gathered at Yaquina View School Sunday that the annual “Hands Across the Bridge” Wellbriety event will, from here on, be celebrated in honor of the memory of Walter Ackerson, Jr, who lost his life due to events triggered in no small way by alcohol abuse.
Bovett told the gathering that he had met with Ackerson’s family on a bright sunny day last week at the north end of the bridge and that they had held a private memorial in memory of their son. They installed a plaque there, where young Ackerson, over 20 years ago, may have drawn his last breath, before Culver and two accomplices, in a drunken stupor, threw him into the bay below.