Employer of victims was cited earlier

Gaithersburg company was given safety citations by state inspectors

Third man who drowned is found

MOSH officials initiate probe of Wednesday's incident in Woodlawn

November 21, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The Gaithersburg company that employed the three workers who drowned in a flash flood Wednesday in Woodlawn had been cited for more than 30 workplace safety violations, state and federal records show.

A crane operator for Concrete General Inc. was killed on the job in 1988. Another employee's arms had to be amputated after he was shocked by a power line in 1982, and a Concrete General worker was rescued after a trench collapsed in 1995. Most recently, in 2000 and 2001, the company was cited six times for trenching violations, according to Maryland Occupational Safety and Health records.

As state officials began their investigation into the Woodlawn drownings, the last of the three construction workers was found late yesterday morning in the culvert that the crew had been repairing as part of a State Highway Administration project.

Arturo Zarate, 44, of Hyattsville, a father of three, was found about 250 feet inside the culvert that runs beneath Interstate 70 and two ramps at Security Boulevard and Forrest Park Avenue about 11:45 a.m.

His foot was stuck under a pipe inside the culvert, which is apparently why he wasn't swept into Dead Run with the two workers who were found Wednesday afternoon, said Elise Armacost, a county Fire Department spokeswoman.

On Wednesday night, rescue teams suspended their search for Zarate, who was presumed dead, but resumed it yesterday morning as relatives and friends waited at the Interstate 70 park-and-ride lot for news.

"I don't believe it's true; it doesn't seem real," said Diana Rosa, 28, sister of one of the dead workers, Santos Zetino, 29, of Hyattsville, who also was known as Milton Ventura.

Initially, search teams believed they were looking for Zetino, who had been found Wednesday and taken to St. Agnes HealthCare where he was pronounced dead. County officials realized yesterday the third worker was Zarate, whose brother, Jose Alvarez, was waiting at the parking lot for the teams to finish the search.

Zarate left his wife and three children - ages 18, 16, and 13 - in El Salvador two years ago to earn money in the United States for his family. Homesick, he was planning to return to El Salvador in March, said Alvarez, whose parents adopted Zarate as an infant. He was saving money for a plane ticket.

"It's very hard when we miss a person and that person is never coming back," said Alvarez, who was making arrangements last night to send his brother's body back for a funeral in El Salvador. "We have to say goodbye to him."

Alvarez wasn't planning to spend the money to go to El Salvador for his brother's funeral: He needs to save, he said, to provide for his brother's children as well as his own.

Zarate had been living with Alvarez, Alvarez's wife and their two children, and another sister in Hyattsville. Alvarez's 9-year-old son would walk to the grocery store each day with Zarate, who frequently offered to help with household chores.

The workers had begun the $250,000 job last week and were cleaning the culvert's seals to prepare it for welding, said Laura Ragowski, a spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration.

Keith Goddard, commissioner of the Division of Labor and Industry that oversees the MOSH program, said the investigation probably would take at least 30 days.

A key issue is whether Concrete General supervisors or employees informed the workers that a flash flood watch was in effect in most Maryland counties Wednesday, Goddard said.

Michael J. Miller, vice president of Concrete General, said it was unclear whether the workers realized a flash-flood warning had been issued.

"One minute there was no water in the pipe," he said as he waited for the missing worker to be found. "The next minute, it was full."

Miller did not return repeated calls yesterday about the company's MOSH violations.

MOSH has records of 34 workplace violations by Concrete General since 1982.

A 61-year-old Concrete General employee was killed in September 1988 when the crane he was operating tipped over and fell down an embankment in Scaggsville. He was not wearing a seat belt and had not been trained in safe operating practices, MOSH found.

Another worker's arms had to be amputated after he was shocked by a 7,800-volt overhead power line in August 1982. MOSH cited the company for six safety violations - five of which were considered serious.

In April 1995, a 31-year-old laborer had to be extricated from a caved-in trench in Montgomery County and flown to the hospital. The company was cited for three serious safety violations as a result, records show.

And in 2000 and 2001, the company was cited six times for repeated violations of trenching standards, records show.

The drowned worker who was first discovered in Dead Run was identified yesterday as Michael L. Shawyer, 22, of Cavetown in Washington County.

Friends and family described him as a father who doted on his two daughters, an amateur mechanic who loved to tinker with engines and a skilled bowler.

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