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No Answers in Parking Deck Cave-in

Thursday, May 30, 2013

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Investigators continue to comb the rubble of a suburban Maryland parking garage to determine why a 50,000-pound concrete slab fell, fatally crushing a construction worker and critically injuring another.

Maryland's Occupational Safety and Health Division is heading the investigation into the May 23 accident that killed Carroll "Star" Dexter Wills, 57, of Frederick, MD.

Wills and another construction worker were inside the structure, which was under construction at Westfield Montgomery Mall, in Bethesda, MD, when it caved in shortly after 2 p.m., as shoppers looked on in shock.

Wills was pronounced dead at the scene. The other worker, whose identity has not been released, is reported in critical condition.

Carroll Wills

Worker thumbs up


Carroll "Star" Dexter Wills (left) was pronounced dead at the scene. At right, a worker trapped in the debris for more than four hours gives a thumbs-up before being flown to an area hospital.

"It was loud," said shopper Bany Alavi. "I would say like a really loud bomb, just a really loud bang. I didn’t know ‘Did a bomb go off?’"

The collapsed section, about 40 feet long, occurred between the second and third levels of the garage, about 500 feet from a Macy's department store.

Delicate Rescue

Rescue personnel worked for more than four hours to stabilize the structure before they were able to free the second worker, said Assistant Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Graham.

“In the middle of the extraction, we did notice some shifting of the concrete,” Graham told reporters.

As a result, they paused the rescue and, with help from structural engineers, altered their approach. More than 100 people were involved in the rescue attempt, said Graham.


The project's general contractor was Whiting-Turner. It was not immediately known if that company or a subcontractor was working on the scene at the time.

The other worker was conscious and alert when rescued, even giving a thumbs-up to reporters at the scene before being flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. His condition has been reported variously as critical and serious.

Rebecca Kresge, who identified herself on Twitter as a relative of the victim, said he was severely injured and told the Washington Post that he would require several surgeries on his arm. Kresge said her relative was "alert and very strong" and was "doing just fine considering what happened."

Contractor Undisclosed

The men's employer still has not been publicly identified.

A Montgomery County official identified the general contractor on the project as Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner, which typically ranks among the top domestic general building contractors as reported by Engineering News Record (ENR).

It was not known, however, if Whiting-Turner or a subcontractor was working on the site when the accident occurred. The company has not commented and did not respond to a request for comment.

Emergency crews worked for more than four hours to rescue one of the workers. The other perished at the scene.

Diane Schwartz Jones, director of Montgomery’s Department of Permitting Services, told the Washington Post that her office was reviewing the project's many permits and permit applications and could not immediately say whether any problems or citations had been issued during construction.

“This project has been around for a long time,” Jones told the newspaper. “There are a lot of permits for that site.”

The parking garage, just outside Washington, D.C., was in the midst of a major three-phase redevelopment project that involved putting a 16-screen movie theater on top of the parking garage.

Montgomery County approved the project in 2005.

A check of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration records showed no inspections or citations on the garage project in the last three years.

'If You Knew Him, You Loved Him'

Wills was a 30-year member of Ironworkers Local #5.

Wills' niece, Olivia Smith, said her uncle had worked construction since graduating from high school and had loved the work.

“He lived for that job," Smith told the Washington Post. "He wouldn’t be doing anything but that. He wasn’t a sit-down type of guy."

Smith, who was single, had three sons (one deceased) and a daughter, the newspaper reported.

“If you knew him, you loved him,” Smith said.

Garage Cave-ins

The collapse was the third fatal cave-in at a North American parking structure in the last year.

In June 2012, the rooftop parking deck of the Algo Centre Mall in Ontario caved in, killing two women and injuring dozens of shoppers who were inside the complex.

A public inquiry into that accident has been underway since March. The cause has been laid to chronic leaks that corroded structural steel below the hollow-core concrete decking.

Mall deck collapse Algo Centre Mall (left); Wikimedia Commons (right)

Left: Thursday's collapse at the Westfield Montgomery Mall. Right: The 2012 rooftop deck collapse at the Algo Centre Mall.

In October, four construction workers perished when a nearly complete parking structure pancaked to the ground at Miami-Dade University West Campus. Five contractors have been cited in that accident.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Concrete; Fatalities; OSHA; Parking Garages; Retail

Comment from WAN MOHAMAD NOR WAN ABDUL RAHMAN, (5/30/2013, 11:04 AM)

Todays accidents happened because people put profit first instead of quality. We can never overcome tragedies like this.

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