Calif. highway overpass collapses, two injured

Officials investigate cause of collapse

News The Associated Press August 01, 2007
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A construction worker is in serious condition after falling 50 ft when a highway overpass he was working on in Oroville, Calif., collapsed, according to The Associated Press. Officials are investigating the cause of the collapse.

Jeffrey Doll, 39, of Olivehurst, Calif., suffered a fractured pelvis, left elbow and lower left leg in Tuesday morning’s collapse, and was airlifted to Enloe Medical Center in Chico, Calif., where he underwent surgery, the AP reported.

"He rode it 50 feet down to the ground. It's incredible that he's going to survive that one," said Mark Dinger, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

Highway 149 remained closed after an estimated 70 tons of steel came crashing down. Crews worked to stabilize the area and clear the debris off the road, and Caltrans was redirecting motorists until the road could be opened again.

"The top priority right now is to stabilize this and get it reopened to traffic," Dinger said.

Early Tuesday morning, workers for private contractor FCI Constructors Inc. of Benicia, Calif. were erecting concrete columns and steel tubes for the overpass connecting Highway 149 with Highway 70 in Butte County, about an hour north of Sacramento, the AP reported. The project began last summer and was scheduled to be completed in fall 2009, according to California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Karen Ogle.

The company has twice been cited for safety violations since 2003, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. In May 2003, it was given a federal fine of $675 for failing to have adequate fall protection on a bridge project, and in September 2004, the company received a fine of $300 from the state for having combustible equipment near a fuel station.

FCI also was one of three contractors, working under the name KFM, fined $5,790 for not reporting 13 worker injuries on the June 2006 Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge skyway project, the AP reported.

FCI President Curtis Weltz, who arrived at the site after the collapse, said he did not yet know what caused the breakdown.

"There's a bunch of different possible scenarios. It's never happened to us before," Weltz said, declining to comment on the company's previous safety violations, according to the AP.

Jacque Underdown, a spokeswoman for Granite Construction Co. of Watsonville, the project's second contractor, said the company was cooperating with the state agencies in charge of the investigation.

Two steel beams fell onto a FedEx delivery truck during the collapse, crushing the truck’s hood and back end. Robert Sylvester, 45, was trapped in the truck for about 2 1/2 hours, but eventually was freed by firefighters, who had to cut him out of the cab, with only minor cuts and a sprained ankle, his wife, Carol, told the AP.

"We've gone from thinking he was absolutely the unluckiest person to the luckiest," Carol Sylvester said after returning home from Enloe Medical Center with her husband.

FedEx is evaluating the "large number of packages" damaged in the incident, the AP reported.

"When it is deemed safe and all official investigations are complete, the packages will be retrieved and returned to our local facility," spokesman Robert Boulware said.

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