New York Times: Work Is Halted at Subway Site After Fatal Crane Collapse
By JOHN LELAND
April 4, 2012
ORIGINAL AVAILABLE HERE
A day after a fatal crane collapse, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority shut down all work at the construction site for the No. 7 subway extension to Manhattan’s Far West Side, leaving a 60-foot-deep pit that looked like an underground ghost city for various investigators to mine for evidence of the accident’s cause.
Prosecutors from the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., took investigative authority over the crane; inspections were ordered for all cranes at M.T.A. work sites; and city officials began examining Yonkers Contracting, the company that owned the 24-year-old crane that collapsed.
On Wednesday, officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, prompted by the accident, ordered the inspection of cranes operated by Yonkers and other contractors at the World Trade Center site, a person with knowledge of the actions said.
As investigators on Wednesday roamed the normally bustling construction site for the No. 7 extension, the cranes and other machines there were silent. Work by three other contractors operating jointly beside Yonkers on the site — Skanska, Schiavone Construction Company and J. F. Shea Construction — was also halted.
About a dozen officials in hard hats stood over the bent and twisted boom that had killed a worker at the site, Michael Simermeyer, 30, of Lawrenceville, N.J. The accident took place at 7:20 p.m. Tuesday, at West 34th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, creating a roar that “sounded like thunder,” said Robert Ramirez, a truck driver who was nearby.
Mr. Simermeyer had gone to work for one of the site’s contractors after being unemployed for several months last fall. He hailed from a long line of construction workers.
The crane was operating beneath street level, a few stories below ground, alongside a hole that descends even further, according to Frank Dwyer, a spokesman for the Fire Department. Mr. Simermeyer and another worker were working on one side of the deeper hole. That worker suffered a broken leg. The crane operator and the flagman, who were both taken to the hospital, were on the other side of the hole.
One worker, who did not provide his name, said that the men were in the pit “laying rebar,” the steel reinforcing rods used to strengthen concrete, while another worker operated the crane. At the time of the accident, the man said, the crane was not picking up or putting down a load. The man, who said he was working some distance from the crane, said he looked at it a moment before the accident and watched the long arm suddenly swing down.
“The boom just came crashing down,” he said. “It was something nobody could have expected.”
The depth of the site made the rescue slow and difficult. The crane operator and the flagman were taken to Bellevue Hospital Center for treatment for shock, but they did not have physical injuries.
The crane had passed a full inspection by the Buildings Department in July; a more recent inspection in January had not been completed, and was rescheduled for April 5, two days after the crane came crashing down.
Inspectors from the department were examining maintenance records for the crane and reviewing video of the site for clues about the accident.
In addition, prosecutors in Mr. Vance’s office, along with the city’s Department of Investigation and the transportation authority’s inspector general, were at the site and at Yonkers Contracting’s offices in Westchester County on Wednesday securing records, several people who were briefed on the inquiry said.
Yonkers Contracting has had a long and sometimes contested history of work on public projects in the city, including a fatal 2000 accident in which a painter fell to his death from the Manhattan Bridge. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Agency fined the company $1,500 for two serious safety citations in the accident. The company successfully appealed a third.
Most recently, the transportation authority awarded the company an $85.5 million contract in November, for work on its East Side Access project, which will take Long Island Rail Road trains to Grand Central Terminal. Company representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
Several previous investigations of the company resulted in acquittals or dropped charges, and a vice president was convicted on federal fraud charges in 2010. The Department of Investigation required that the company hire a monitor to oversee its operations from 2003 to 2008 for reasons that included failing to report a bribe solicitation, according to a law enforcement official.
J & E Industries, the company that employed Mr. Simermeyer, worked as a subcontractor to Yonkers.
It was the first deadly crane accident in the city since 2008, when two separate crashes killed nine people and created waves of fear in the city, according to the Office of Emergency Management. Some officials said on Tuesday that there were five victims in the West Side accident.
The accident comes in the middle of two of the largest public transportation construction projects in recent years, the extension of the No. 7 line, a key piece of the redevelopment of west Midtown, and the long-awaited construction the Second Avenue subway.
The total cost of the No. 7 line project is $2.42 billion, which includes $266 million in nonsubway work financed by the city. Yonkers’s contract, awarded in October 2010, is for $116.4 million.
Instead of the rumble and clatter of heavy equipment, noise on the block on Wednesday came from the whoosh of buses and trucks on 11th Avenue, the faint whistles of a traffic officer on 10th Avenue and the creak of a corrugated metal gate on a yellow brick car garage.
By stopping all work on the extension project, the transportation authority halted one of the city’s largest economic engines, which now employs roughly 800 workers. Richard T. Anderson, president of New York’s Building Congress, said the M.T.A. was the leading provider of construction jobs in the city. It generates about 20 percent of the $26 billion spent annually on construction.
Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, criticized the lack of city authority over the construction project. After the two accidents in 2008, the city tightened safety and inspection standards for all construction in the five boroughs. But those regulations do not apply to the M.T.A., a state authority.
Ms. Quinn cited two conditions at the site that inspectors believe were in violation of city safety requirements, though neither was related to the crane.
Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who appeared with Ms. Quinn at a news conference, said in an interview that the authority was not required to let city officials review its cranes except when they were first installed.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg withheld criticism, saying that the authority “runs projects pretty well” and “does have a good record.” He added that the city had pushed to require an exam for all crane operators, but had met with union opposition.
On Wednesday, Ian Titus, an iron worker who went to the site, said the threat of serious injury, or worse, was a part of the job. “Nobody plans to come out here to die,” he said, “but that’s the risk you take when you come to a construction site.”
Reporting was contributed by Joseph Berger, Joseph Goldstein, Christine Haughney, Randy Leonard, Colin Moynihan and William K. Rashbaum.