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Judge Questions Bridge Evidence Destruction

Monday, September 17, 2018

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Several months after the collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University, it has come to light that 26 threaded steel rods—the kind being tightened on the bridge at the time of the collapse—were melted down after being removed from the site.

The rods and a bolt were reportedly identified and marked for preservation by one of the companies involved in the bridge construction, now named in a suit over the failure of the structure. The worker who removed the materials from the site works for Structural Group, another of the firms being sued for its part in the project.

Bridge Collapse Background

The bridge collapsed during post-tensioning on March 15, killing five civilians and one employee of subcontractor VSL.

FIU is home to the Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center, a multi-university center promoting ABC techniques. The pedestrian bridge was touted as an example of innovative design and construction meant to limit road closures and inconvenience stemming from the otherwise lengthy bridge construction process.

National Transportation Safety Board

The bridge collapsed during post-tensioning on March 15, killing five civilians and one employee of subcontractor VSL.

According to CNN, shortly after the span was installed, W. Denney Pate, an engineer with bridge firm FIGG, which was part of the design-construction team, noticed there was an issue—a crack had formed along the north side of the bridge, and repairs were needed.

In early May, the Miami Herald sued after two months of attempts to access documents related to the collapse, and in early June, FDOT asked a County Circuit Court judge to dismiss the suit. The newspaper said the agency acknowledged that the records fell under the state’s open-records law, but FDOT argued that their pertinence to the NTSB’s investigation means they could not be released publicly. Earlier this month, a preliminary report from the NSTB indicated that cracks found in the bridge a few days before it collapsed were much more extensive than originally thought.

In late August, Leon County state court Judge Kevin Carroll ruled that FDOT must release the records associated with the tragedy. A federal judge quickly stepped in and blocked the release of the documents.

Destruction of Evidence

Though Judge Jennifer Bailey noted her distress over the destruction of the evidence, an attorney for Structural Group said that a company employee destroyed the rods only after consulting with general contractor MCM's site supervisor. At the time, only the bolt found atop the rods was marked for preservation the worker has argued. Lawyers have until Friday (Sept. 21) to produce affidavits from those who witnessed what occurred prior to the destruction of the evidence.

Once the information is reviewed, parties can make a case for if there should be other testimony to determine if the destruction was a violation of the court’s order. If the destruction of evidence is found to be intentional, the judge could instruct future juries to assume the act was motivated by a cover-up.

The judge admitted that she did not know if the 1-3/4-inch-thick rods would be important to the case or not. The NTSB collected and tested rods of that same size, and found no issues with the materials.

Attorney for Structural Group Glenn Fuerth declined to comment to the Herald, but noted that there was no bad faith on part of his clients. 

   

Tagged categories: Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC); Government; Infrastructure; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

Comment from Ric Beard, (9/17/2018, 8:49 AM)

Typical results from cutting time off a project. I think the ABC program is a great idea. However, quality control and assurance are still paramount in every project. When you cut corners, be it time, materials, etc., you have failures. Tragically this one cost more than money can cover.


Comment from Michael Halliwell, (9/17/2018, 11:29 AM)

Yup. One of my professors in school had an example of tragic cutting corners he liked to hit us with all the time: shopping mall in the US. Two suspended walkways were supposed to be hung on a single threaded metal rods. Someone at the contractor level didn't want to spin the nuts all the way up for the upper walkway...so they cut the rod and hung the second walkway off of the first. It collapsed because the connection of the first walkway wasn't designed for double the weight caused by hanging the second walkway off the first. Hopefully this doesn't end up being another fatal example of someone taking a shortcut.


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