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Four Cited Following Bridge Fatality

Friday, October 23, 2015

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Four companies have been fined nearly $87,000 for putting employees at risk during a bridge renovation project that turned fatal when part of the bridge collapsed and killed a family driving beneath it.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) fined each of the companies for violations it found when it inspected the Bonney Lake worksite after the April tragedy, the agency said in a statement released Monday (Oct. 19). The agency had issued the citations on Oct. 8.

WHH Nisqually Federal Services, of Tacoma, was the general contractor working April 13 on pedestrian improvements to the state Route 410 overpass. As previously reported, a 20-foot-long concrete barrier fell that day during the renovations. It struck a pickup truck carrying Josh Ellis, 25; his wife, Vanessa, 29; and their 8-month-old son, Hudson.

Photos: Washington State Department of Labor & Industries

A 20-foot-long concrete barrier fell April 13 during bridge renovations in Bonney Lake, WA. It struck a pickup truck carrying Josh Ellis, 25; his wife, Vanessa, 29; and their 8-month-old son, Hudson.

Josh and Vanessa, who were youth pastors at EastPointe Foursquare Church, and their son died at the scene.

Citations, Lawsuit

The citations were handed down less than two months after a family member of one of the victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their estate, according to a Monday (Oct. 19) article in The News Tribune.

L&I said all four companies had workers on site the day the Ellis family was killed. Each also is listed as defendant in the lawsuit, according to The News Tribune, along with two other companies and the City of Bonney Lake.

The general contractor, which was fined $8,400 by L&I for two serious violations related to exposing workers to hazards at the worksite, had subcontracted concrete work to HighMark Concrete Contractors, of Buckley.

HighMark, which received a $4,900 fine from L&I for failing to ensure a worksite free from recognized hazards, then subcontracted with Staton Companies, of Eugene, OR, to remove a portion of the existing bridge.

At $58,800, Staton received the largest of the fines—one for willful and two for serious violations for exposing workers to danger while demolishing the concrete barrier on the overpass.

Staton Companies received the largest of the fines at $58,800, while its subcontractor, Hamilton Construction, received the second-largest fine at $14,700.

But Staton also had subcontracted with Hamilton Construction, of Springfield, OR, to cut the concrete barrier. Hamilton received the second-largest fine of the four companies, which L&I assessed at $14,700. The agency determined all three of its violations were serious but essentially were for the same hazards for which Staton was cited.

The News Tribune went on to say that Staton was one of two companies discharged from the project in May. Staton also has a history of various workplace violations throughout Washington and Oregon, the daily newspaper said.

“Demolition is one of the most hazardous operations in construction,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director for the L&I Division of Occupational Safety & Health, in the agency’s statement. “Preparing and following a specific safety plan that anticipates the worst case conditions is critical. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen in this case.”

The companies had 15 days from the date the citations were issued to pay or appeal the fines.

Accident Details

The accident occurred at 10:30 a.m. local time, according to several media outlets. At first, police knew that the driver had died but did not realize anyone else was in the truck.

“The damage was so severe, it was impossible to even tell how many victims were in the vehicle,” an officer with the Bonney Lake Police Department said at the time.

City officials said the City of Bonney Lake had received state and federal funding to add a sidewalk to the overpass. The work involved tearing down part of the existing bridge to make room for the new sidewalk.

WHH Nisqually, a tribally owned company, had started work on the $1.8 million project about a month before the accident occurred, according to previous reports.

The city’s public works manager previously said that construction plans called for the closing of Angeline Road if any part of the bridge was to be brought down.

But the road remained opened on April 13. That was one of several details that officials have said Staton got wrong on the day the barrier fell.

Mistakes Alleged

“The investigation found that Staton had concerns about the possibility of the barrier falling down during cutting, yet still continued with the work,” L&I said in the statement announcing the fines.

Officials and a wrongful death lawsuit both allege that Staton erred in using the wrong equipment; not following the demolition plan; and not stopping traffic.

Staton also did not ensure that the barrier was secured or braced to prevent a collapse, the agency said.

The lawsuit also alleges that Staton did not follow its own procedures, according to The News Tribune. According to the lawsuit, that plan stated that workers were supposed to remove the concrete barrier in pieces with an excavator equipped with a “thumb” designed to grab each piece.

But one of the companies delivered the wrong equipment to the site, the lawsuit reportedly states. As a result, the foreman instructed the concrete cutter to make long horizontal cuts the entire length of the barrier.

Even after discussing whether or not they should continue cutting out of concerns that the barrier would remain on the bridge, workers continued, according to the lawsuit. And although traffic flaggers were on scene, the foreman never had them stop traffic, the lawsuit reportedly said.

According to The News Tribune, Staton referred calls to their attorney who did not respond for comment.

In addition to building the sidewalk, the scope of the project included adding a sewer line; widening state Route 410; and adding bases for street lights.

The project was completed during the summer, the newspaper said.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Fatalities; Government; Government contracts; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA

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