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Bridge Worker Killed on Stadium Project

Monday, February 3, 2014

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One bridge worker drowned and another was serious injured when the man-lift to which they were tethered toppled from a floating dock and vanished into the Brazos River in Waco, TX, authorities said.

Jose Dario Suarez, 55, of Manor, TX, and another worker were dragged into the river just after 4 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 28) when the boom, attached to a crane, fell into the river in near-freezing temperatures, reports said.

The two men had been working on a $9.1 million pedestrian bridge as part of the new $260 million McLane Football Stadium that Baylor University is building on a 93-acre site near the river.

Austin Flintco

The $9.1 million pedestrian bridge over the Brazos River will connect to Baylor University's new football stadium. The victims were tethered to a boom, attached to a crane on a floating dock.

The accident occurred just a few days after a project topping-out ceremony that was too windy to allow for a steel beam to be safely lifted into place.

Worker Escapes

Both men were harnessed to the equipment when it fell, police said.

However, the other worker, whose name was not released, was able to free himself from his harness and swim to the river's surface. He was rescued and treated for hypothermia at an area hospital.

Crews and responders were unable to find Suarez or the equipment, however, setting off a four-hour search with sonar by Waco firefighters and state game wardens.

Divers found Suarez's body that evening in 16 feet of water, and he was pronounced dead at 8:17 p.m. local time. An autopsy later concluded that he had drowned.

"He was still attached to the equipment with his safety harness and flotation devices," Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton told on Wednesday (Jan. 29).

Windy Construction

Baylor officials and contractors held a topping-out ceremony for the stadium project five days before the accident. At that point, the project was about 60 percent complete, with a crew of about 600 working seven days a week, general contractor Austin Flintco told reporters.

Baylor Athletics / YouTube

Baylor Athletics held a topping-out for the project Jan. 23, but wind prevented placement of the beam.

In a Baylor Athletics YouTube video of the topping-out ceremony, an official notes that the weather was too windy to allow crews to hoist the last truss into place as scheduled.

Construction work on the bridge was halted after the accident, while work at the stadium continued.

The stadium is scheduled to open Aug. 30, and officials said they would run crews 24 hours a day if necessary to make the deadline.

Subcontractor at Issue

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident.

Suarez and the other victim worked for a subcontractor, Derr and Isbell Construction LLC, which was established in 2012 as a division of Fort Worth-based Derr Construction Co.

Baylor Athletics / YouTube

Flags flapped on the site five days before the lift toppled into the river.

Derr Construction was founded in 1961. The company and/or its affiliates have worked on Texas Stadium, DFW International, and other major structural projects in Texas and Colorado.

Derr & Isbell did not respond Friday (Jan. 31) to a request for comment.

Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr expressed the school's condolences in a statement Wednesday, saying, "All of Baylor Nation extends our deepest sympathies as we remember in our prayers Jose Suarez and all those whom he loved."


Tagged categories: Bridges; Fall protection; Fatalities; lift; OSHA; Stadiums/Sports Facilities; Workers

Comment from Billy Russell, (2/3/2014, 5:27 AM)

Prayer’s to the Families of these two men, A moment of silence...............

Comment from Chuck Pease, (2/5/2014, 10:25 PM)

Yes indeed. We lost 2 more brothers here in Phx last week. Another scissor lift accident. Damn I always hated the scissors. Would rather be in a boom anyday.

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