Girder drops on SUV, killing 3

Horrific collapse occurred on I-70 near Denver from bridge construction site

May 16, 2004|By THE DENVER POST

GOLDEN, Colo. - A 40-ton girder from a bridge construction project collapsed onto Interstate 70 just west of Denver yesterday morning, crushing a sport utility vehicle and killing all three occupants.

"This is one of the worst things I've ever seen," said Stacey Stegman, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. "Something went terribly wrong."

The 100-foot-long girder, placed Tuesday night as part of a construction project on Colorado 470, fell on the eastbound lanes of I-70 just after 10 a.m. It crashed onto the blue Dodge Durango, ripping off the top half of the SUV. No other vehicles were involved in the accident.

The Jefferson County coroner did not immediately release the identities of the man, woman and child who were killed.

The girder "just bowed right over the intersection, and the person driving the [SUV] had no chance to stop," a witness told a local radio station.

Girders, essentially sets of two long I-beams bolted together, are used as road-deck foundations in new bridge construction or to widen existing bridges.

Stegman said bracings - eight- to 10-inch bolts that connected the girder temporarily to the bridge - came loose as the girder collapsed, although she could not say whether that was because of installation problems or some other cause.

It appears to state engineers that the girder "flipped from the bottom out," ripping the bracings out of the concrete as the structure fell, she said.

The engineers do not yet have an explanation for what happened, Stegman said. "Everyone here is very perplexed," she said.

Investigators swarmed to the site to figure out what went wrong. Officials at Asphalt Specialties Co., the contractor of the $11.95 million interchange project, could not be reached for comment. Ridge Erection Co. of Arvada, Colo., which was subcontracted to install the girder, also could not be reached for comment.

Henderson, Colo.-based Asphalt Specialties handles tens of millions of dollars in Colorado highway projects each year.

The company has a good track record, Stegman said.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Rep. Bob Beauprez visited the scene in the afternoon and vowed a full investigation, looking at possibilities from tampering to negligence.

All eastbound lanes of I-70 were closed indefinitely, awaiting an investigation and the removal of the girder, which lay bowed onto the pavement throughout the day.

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