Rebar column collapse at Highway 75 bridge kills one worker, injures two

Rain Smith • Aug 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — One construction worker is dead and two others injured following the collapse of a rebar column at a Tennessee Department of Transportation bridge project — throwing them into the Holston River.

The accident occurred about 9:45 a.m. Wednesday at the Highway 75 bridge in Sullivan County, between Tri-Cities Regional Airport and Highway 36. Simpson Construction out of Cleveland, Tenn., was contracted to build the new bridge, which runs parallel to the current structure.

Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson said the two injured workers were quickly pulled ashore by co-workers after the accident. Jessis Dominguez, of Rogersville, was transported to Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport by ambulance. Maria Lima, of Morristown, was flown to Johnson City Medical Center by Wings Air Rescue.

Their conditions had not been released Wednesday.

The body of Frangel Garcia was recovered by the Kingsport Lifesaving Crew Dive Team about 11 a.m. after a helicopter, dive teams and boats searched the river.

TDOT spokesman Travis Brickey said the workers were securing a column of rebar in preparation of pouring concrete. The column, one of 12 that will support the new Highway 75 bridge, is built on a pier in the river.

“Something gave way, causing the column of rebar to collapse,” Brickey said. “We’re unsure as to why that happened.”

Brickey added that all three workers were wearing harnesses connected to a safety line. He did not know if Garcia’s line was intact when he was found in the water.

TDOT and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are investigating the accident. Construction at the site began last summer.

“Everybody at TDOT, the entire industry, our hearts and prayers go out to the victim’s family and the families of the two that are injured,” Brickey said. “Construction is a dangerous business, so we always have to be mindful of that. It is a human business as those guys are out there doing the construction work to make our lives, our commutes, our travels easier for all of us.”

Anderson said officers responding to the scene were told a cable running from a crane was attached to the rebar. That cable apparently broke, causing the rebar to collapse and throw workers into the water.

As crews searched for the victim’s body, a crane at the edge of the river was extended out and over the rebar column, which was not erect but folded, its top nearly touching the water’s surface.

Above the bent steel was a cable dangling from a crane. It appeared to be broken.

When asked if that could have caused the accident, Brickey said TDOT is investigating all possibilities.

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