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City, MTA Trade Shots as West Side Crane Collapse Probe Continues

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The city and the MTA are trading shots over who owns the site of a crane collapse that killed one worker and injured four others on Tuesday.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that the site is controlled by the MTA right now, and that means that State rules — not city construction regulations, apply. She’d like to change that. 

“Right now, since it is an MTA work site, city agencies have to be invited…on site as opposed to every other work site in the city of New York,”

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 inspection last 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.

A variety of agencies, including the police department and the Manhattan district attorney, are investigating the cause of the collapse.

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 Simermeyer, 30, of Burlington, N.J. was pronounced dead following Tuesday's accident at the No. 7 subway line extension construction site at 34th Street and 11th Avenue. One other person was hospitalized in serious condition and three people were treated for minor injuries.

Simermeyer 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. Simermeyer 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sharyn Jackson contributed reporting.

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