Westminster garage collapse injures 3

Construction workers `rode down' concrete

investigation under way

April 04, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai and Jennifer McMenamin | Athima Chansanchai and Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A section of a parking garage under construction in Westminster collapsed yesterday morning, sending part of a 30-ton concrete deck crashing to the ground and injuring three workers.

Authorities and workers at the site said that construction crews were installing a 60-by-12-foot concrete section on the top tier of the three-level garage when something went wrong.

"It was a piece of the flooring that you'd drive your car on. They were installing that, and it was not completely in place," said Maj. Dean A. Brewer of the Westminster police. "It came down, and part of it caught the second level."

The concrete slab, known in the construction business as a double-T beam, was split lengthwise in the collapse. Parts of it remained hanging from a crane amid a pile of rubble.

Two of the injured men apparently were working on the top deck about 10:15 a.m. when the concrete gave way and the workers "rode it down," a paramedic on the scene said.

Terry Dee White, 40, a construction foreman from Bunker Hill, W.Va., and welder Serafin Louis Soto, 34, of Arlington, Va., were flown by helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Both men were released at 6:30 p.m., a nursing coordinator said last night.

Tom Rio, 47, a Taneytown firefighter and emergency medical technician who helped Westminster paramedics attend to the injured men, said that both had bruises and that Soto complained of leg pain. The two were flown out because of concerns about possible internal bleeding and spinal injuries.

A third worker, Herbas Pablo Cano, 42, of Arlington, Va., was taken by ambulance to Carroll County General Hospital with minor injuries. He was treated and released by 12:30 p.m.

All three men work for Baltimore-based E.E. Marr Erectors Inc., the crane company working on the garage project, according to Kirk Edwards, the company's vice president.

Witnesses, police and construction workers at the site offered conflicting versions of what happened, alternately describing a cracking of the concrete or a snapping of the crane cable that was hoisting the large beam atop the garage.

Brewer said that inspectors with Maryland Occupational Safety and Health told him there was "no breakage of the cable," but that someone who specializes in cables will inspect them.

Edwards declined to comment. Craig A. Musser, human resource manager and safety director with Nitterhouse Concrete Products Inc. of Chambersburg, Pa., was at the accident site yesterday afternoon but also would not discuss the collapse. Mangers with Kinsley Construction, the general contractor on the job, declined comment at the parking garage and did not return a call to their York County, Pa., office.

Rio was volunteering at a downtown support center for the mentally ill when he heard the crash. He said he ran to the scene and found paramedics working on the injured men. Rio said the workers described the falling concrete and how they "rode it down."

Two MedEvac helicopters landed in the Westminster City Playground, just across the street from the $2.85 million parking garage going up in the Longwell parking lot between City Hall and Main Street. But White and Soto were flown out in the same chopper.

The collapse left chunks of the concrete section dangling from two taut cables and a third slack wire. It created a backup of trucks waiting to deliver concrete slabs for installation in the parking decks. And it shook nearby houses and businesses, drawing out office workers, shoppers and motorists to gape and speculate.

"Dust was flying, the sound was unbelievable and guys were running and calling, `It's falling in,'" said Sharon Cornish of Westminster, who had just arrived at a nearby parking lot when she and her friends heard a loud boom. "I started praying right away."

Jaime Paz, 32, of Arlington, Va., who also works for the crane company, said he saw the concrete section "start to crack before it fell."

"I heard the noise, I ran and the floor caved in," he added.

Gerri Gartrell, 22, of Westminster, described seeing the concrete section jackknife either before or as it fell. "I looked up and the beam was straight across and then it was like the beam snapped in the middle," Gartrell said. "All the workers on the roof came running down. If it breaks that easily now, how will it hold cars?"

Karen Napolitano, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said that MOSH is investigating the accident.

Brewer said the construction project -- which had been slated for completion in July -- is on hold indefinitely.

"Construction is at a standstill until [state inspectors] release the scene," he said. "It could be a day. It could be a week."

Sun staff writers Mary Gail Hare and Ellie Baublitz contributed to this article.

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