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FIU Bridge Designer Testifies

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

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Over a year after the bridge collapse at Florida International University, and a day after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released an investigative report that laid blame upon the bridge designer, the project’s lead technical designer testified during a pretrial hearing regarding evidence. This was the first time he had commented since the tragedy.

According to the Engineering News-Record, W. Denney Pate, an engineer with bridge firm FIGG, told a judge earlier this month that his phone accidentally wound up in the washing machine, when his pants were being washed, destroying data like call records.

FIU Bridge Collapse

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.

According to CNN, shortly after the span was installed, Pate, employed with 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.

National Transportation Safety Board, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Over a year after the bridge collapse at Florida International University, and a day after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released an investigative report that laid blame upon the bridge designer, the project’s lead technical designer testified during a pretrial hearing regarding evidence. This was the first time he had commented since the tragedy.

In early May 2018, the Miami Herald sued after two months of attempts to access documents related to the collapse, and in early June, the Florida Department of Transportation 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 its pertinence to the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation meant they could not be released publicly.

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

In April, after MCM filed for bankruptcy, lawyers presented documents alleging that engineers dismissed cracks found in the bridge prior to the disaster. The following month, the construction company responsible for building the FIU bridge reached an agreement with insurers to pay up to $42 million to victims of the incident, as well as their families.

Earlier this month, in the 115-page report, federal work-safety investigators determined that the street that ran under the bridge should have been shut down because of cracks in the structure. Parties involved failed to recognize the danger due to design errors.

Pate Testifies

Pate’s phone, along with a number of other devices and documents, is currently being sought by a trial of claims, which will merge 19 lawsuits against FIGG and other parties involved with the project. On March 15, Pate had left a voicemail to a state official saying that the bridge was safe despite the cracking. The recording has since been released and cited in a number of lawsuits.

Pate noted that he had not taken any photos of the cracks in the bridge with the phone that wound up damaged, as far as he knew. Judge Jennifer D. Bailey expressed frustration in light of the information, saying, “I can’t tell whether any of this is remotely accurate and what may be out there that FIGG hasn’t told us about.”

Bailey also emphasized needing to know why FIGG had not supplied phone and text messages requested for trial—a request that was issued a year ago.

   

Tagged categories: Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC); Bridges; Government; Infrastructure; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management

Comment from john lienert, (6/25/2019, 6:03 AM)

if the glove don't fit......we must acquit


Comment from Mark Taylor, (6/25/2019, 8:42 AM)

Way too convenient. This is now a criminal coverup in addition to criminal negligence.


Comment from Peter Kenimer, (6/25/2019, 2:57 PM)

wow...tampering with evidence much? i don't know how i could live myself after knowing something that i designed killed anybody let alone multiple people, then destroying incriminating evidence? just own up, the jail time won't be pleasant, but it'd deserved.


Comment from Jon Edwards, (6/26/2019, 5:47 PM)

The dog ate my homework! Bad dog!!


Comment from Ronald Lewis, (6/30/2019, 2:54 PM)

Are bridges designed on hand telephones?


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