FL: Bridge Worker Heard Cracks While Strapped in Prior to Collapse; One Other Worker Dead

Liz Carey

Sweetwater, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – A construction worker injured in the collapse of the Florida International University bridge credits his harness for saving his life.

On Thursday, March 15, a pedestrian bridge over 8th Street at Southwest 109thAvenue in Sweetwater collapsed. The bridge connected the FIU campus with a neighborhood where more than 4,000 of its students live. At least six people are believed to have died when the bridge collapsed at 1:47 p.m., when the bridge collapsed onto the roadway below trapping as many as eight cars. Dozens more were injured.

One of the dead was worker Navarro Brown, 37, an employee of Structural Technologies VSL, a bridge construction and cable tension company. Officials said Brown was taken to the hospital following the collapse and died there. Authorities said two other Structural Technologies employees were injured.

Shortly after the collapse, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Miami Dade) said that workers were tightening cables on the bridge before it collapsed.

“The cables that suspend the #Miami bridge had loosened and the engineering firm ordered that they be tightened. They were being tightened when it collapsed today,” Sen. Rubio posted on Twitter.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg confirmed Friday the bridge was undergoing testing the day of the collapse.

A spokesperson for Maryland-based Structural Technologies told Local 10 News in Miami that they were helping Brown’s family travel to Miami.

Calls and emails to Structural Technologies were not returned at the beginning of the week.

Another employee was reportedly injured during the collapse.

In an interview with ABC News, Jayleen Gutierrez said her cousin Carlos Chapman, heard noises on the bridge as he was working on it and locked in his harness.

“All he really remembers is hearing a cracking noise and immediately locking in his harness,” Gutierrez said. “Seconds after that, he fell. He said if it weren’t for that harness, he would have easily died.”

Chapman suffered numerous wounds including a shoulder fracture, she said, and has undergone surgery on his nose, mouth and eye.

On Friday, the day after the collapse, National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) investigator Robert Accetta said that crews were applying post-tensioning force on the bridge support cables when the bridge collapsed. However, he said, investigators have not concluded whether or not that stress test was what caused the collapse.

Additionally, offices said an engineer for the bridge left a voicemail for the Florida Department of Transportation on Tuesday, alerting them to cracks in the bridge, but dismissing the cracks as not a safety issue. No one picked up the voicemail until Friday, however, a day after the collapse. NTSB officials have said it’s unclear if the cracks contributed to the bridge’s collapse as well.

Since the accident, one of the construction companies involved in building the bridge, has deleted its social media presence, it said, out of concern for the victims.

Munilla Construction Management deleted its Twitter page, Facebook page and Instagram page. Calls to the company went directly to voicemail.

Cheryl Stopnick, spokesperson for FIGG Engineering, referred all questions as to whether or not any FIGG employees had been injured to the Miami-Dade Police and Fire Departments.

In an email interview with WorkersCompensation.com, Stopnick said the company did not have any further comment on the incident at this time.

Detective Argemis Colome, a public information officer with the Miami Dade Police Department, told WorkersCompensation.com the police department would not be the agency to release that information and that the only organization that could do that is an injured employee’s employer.

Colome said that the incident was still under investigation by the homicide department, the department that handles all investigations that involve a death.