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Cause of Deadly Crane Collapse Under Investigation

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Council Speaker Christine Quinn. (Richard Yeh/WNYC)

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the MTA wasn't following the same safety rules at the site of Tuesday's crane collapse that other property owners must follow because the transportation authority is exempt from local regulations.

Quinn held a press conference at the accident site, 34th Street and 11th Avenue, where a construction boom crane crashed to the ground, killing one construction worker and seriously injuring another.

She said city inspectors on site where the accident occurred did not find evidence of what was called an unsecured perimeter, something that would not have been permitted under city regulations. She added that it's not clear if the unsecure construction fence contributed to the accident.

The MTA said in a statement it “is examining the Speaker’s proposal to put all MTA construction activity under the inspection authority of the New York City Department of Buildings.”

The agency, however, did say the crane collapse happened on city-owned property and that gives the city's Department of Buildings jurisdiction to inspect cranes there as it did last July.

The DOB report on the crane said the inspection turned up "no deficiencies." A second inspection was scheduled for January 2012, but was postponed because the crane was in operation that day. It was rescheduled for April 5.

The MTA has suspended all work at the site until further notice. It has also ordered the inspection of all cranes at MTA construction sites in the city.

Authorities on Wednesday were focusing on what caused of the crash.

The MTA said Yonkers Contracting Company owned and operated the crane. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the company was fined four times — three of those violations were classified as serious. In 2010, the firm was fined $3,000 for a lack of adequate worker training.

Calls placed to the company for comment were not immediately returned.

Michael Simmermeyer, 30, of Burlington, N.J. was pronounced dead following Tuesday's accident at the No. 7 subway line extension construction site. One other person was hospitalized in serious condition and three people were treated for minor injuries.

Simmermeyer worked at the site with his father, his co-workers said.

"Both great guys to work with and hang out with. It's just horrible," said Joe Travers, an ironworker from the Rockaways. Simmermeyer was "one of the nicest guys I've ever worked with," he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city has made crane safety and construction reforms in the wake of the May 2008 East Side crane collapse that killed a crane operator and fellow worker. The crane's owner is currently on trial for manslaughter.

"We've made aggressive reforms to construction safety and crane safety," Bloomberg said Wednesday.

Worker Chazz Brown, one of about 50 ironworkers sent home Wednesday from their day shift, said danger is part of the job.

"It's tragic," he said. "Nobody wants to lose a life on a job site. We come here, we expect to be secure. But it's always stuff flying over our head. All you got to do is just look up, and once it's passed, you just get back to work."

The crane was set up on the second of three levels on the construction site on Manhattan's West Side, city officials said. The FDNY said the boom came apart in two pieces - one 80 feet long and the other 40 feet long.

The NYPD said that the investigation would be jointly conducted by the Department of Buildings and police. The crane is owned and operated by Yonkers Contracting Company.

(Photo: Site of construction crane collapse. Janet Babin/WNYC)

Jack Sullivan, deputy chief for the FDNY EMS, said it was possible one of the workers had been struck by the crane's boom. The crane operator and someone who worked with him were among those who were injured.

He described the removal of the workers from the construction site, about 60 feet below street level, as "extremely dangerous."

"We had construction material that wasn't stable," he said.

Dozens of first responders came to the accident site.

Standing on a sidewalk, one construction laborer collapsed in tears into the arms of another worker. A laborer could be heard saying: "I can't take it."

Thomas Rushkin, a retired city police officer and private investigator, said he was on his way home when he saw emergency vehicles heading over and got a glance at the pieces of the crane.

"The arm is broken in half," he said, adding that it appeared that one part of the crane was on a level below the street.

Another witness, Kennon Murphy, of Charlotte, N.C., said he was on his way to the nearby Javits Convention Center when he heard "a big boom." He said of the crane: "We noticed it was down."

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority released a statement saying they plan to work with all proper authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.

"On behalf of the entire MTA, we pray for the recovery of the workers injured as a result of this tragic accident," the statement said.

Janet Babin and Sharyn Jackson contributed reporting.

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