Bridge worker dies in fall as platform breaks away, tumbles 82 feet

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  • A carpenter from Curtice died yesterday at the Veterans Glass City Skyway project when a work platform he occupied detached from the bridge and plunged 82 feet to the ground next to Summit Street in Toledo s North End.

    Andrew Burris, a member of Carpenters Local 1138 and the father of one, is the fifth worker to die at the I-280 bridge construction site. The four previous deaths occurred on Feb. 16, 2004, when a construction crane collapsed in East Toledo.

    Mr. Burris, 36, was declared dead at the scene shortly after the 9:15 a.m. accident. An autopsy is scheduled for today at the Lucas County Coroner s Office.

    Authorities do not yet know what caused the platform to break away from the bridge. Nor do they know how the accident will affect the June completion date for the $220 million project.

    While Mr. Burris relatives gathered at his rural Ottawa County home yesterday afternoon to grieve their loss, his death opened old wounds for families who also lost loved ones on the project.

    It just brought tears to my eyes, said Robert Lipinski, Sr., whose late son, Robert Lipinski, Jr., likely would have retired as an ironworker this year. It is sad to hear things like this happen.

    I m trying hard to forget my son s accident. I look for him coming up the driveway every once in a while, but I know it s in vain.

    At an afternoon news conference at project headquarters in East Toledo, Ohio Department of Transportation officials offered condolences, but referred all questions about the accident s circumstances to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

    We extend our deepest sympathy to the family of Andrew Burris, said David Dysard, the deputy director at ODOT s district office in Bowling Green. ODOT is working with Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Toledo Police Department, and project contractor Fru-Con Construction in an accident investigation, Mr. Dysard said. Most work on the bridge was suspended after yesterday s accident.

    No OSHA representative attended the news conference, and Jule Hovi, the agency s area director, declined to comment on the investigation.

    By law, a report is to be done within six months, but the safety agency will try to finish sooner, she said.

    It s very difficult to tell when an investigation will be completed, Ms. Hovi said. It could take several weeks, several months.

    As for OSHA s absence from the news conference, Ms. Hovi said: We were not invited, and we didn t think it was appropriate for us to be there.

    A spokesman for Fru-Con, based in Ballwin, Mo., said the company had people en route to the job site but no comment on the accident s circumstances pending the investigation.

    We re deeply grieved by Andy Burris death, and our hearts go out to his wife and daughter and to Andy s co-workers on the project, Fru-Con spokesman Marie Casey said.

    Police interviewed workers who were at the scene. No foul play is suspected in the incident, which police are considering an accident, Toledo police Capt. Ray Carroll said.

    Authorities are looking at everything from equipment malfunction to employee error. Skies over downtown Toledo were partly cloudy and winds were about 10 mph at the time of the accident.

    Co-worker Brandon Mahoney said he saw the platform fall.

    The platform was just set into position and Mr. Burris was getting on it to begin working, he said, when it fell from the side of the bridge.

    Mr. Mahoney said he got into a truck and went down to his colleague. Someone else called 911. Mr. Mahoney said he felt for a pulse and tried to talk to Mr. Burris.

    He said Mr. Burris was wearing a safety harness but it was not attached to anything. Usually, he said, the harness is attached to something, but when one is working on the platform there is nothing to attach to but the platform itself. The harness is not usually attached to the platform, he said.

    The handrails are supposed to be secured properly. Usually [one does] not tie off at that point, Mr. Mahoney said.

    He said being attached to the bridge structure is not a feasible way to work.

    Mr. Mahoney said there had been no questions before the accident about the platform which like the others are portable and moved frequently and workers were going along as usual before the incident occurred.

    We were doing what we do every day, he said.

    Mr. Mahoney said he had worked with Mr. Burris on the bridge project on and off for the last five years, but worked hand-in-hand with him since March. That s when many workers, including carpenters, returned to the construction site after being laid off for the winter.

    By midafternoon, several hours after the on-scene investigation concluded, a seven-foot varnished wooden cross with a floral wreath and black ribbon bearing Mr. Burris s name and the date had been placed on the spot where his body struck ground.

    Work on the bridge s approach viaducts was suspended for eight months following the 2004 crane collapse. The project was then delayed another eight months by a second crane incident on Oct. 23, 2004, the day viaduct construction was to resume, with nobody hurt.

    The most recent estimate from ODOT and Fru-Con for completing the bridge, originally scheduled to open last fall, is June 22. Mr. Dysard said he did not know how the accident yesterday might affect that deadline.

    While some subcontractors elsewhere on the project continued to work yesterday, Mike Gramza, ODOT s project manager, said work in the area where Mr. Burris fell has stopped for the time being and no decision had been made about when to resume.

    The work platform was one of a series attached on the outer side of the parapet wall on the east side of what is to become the Skyway s northbound viaduct from the Maumee River to Greenbelt Parkway. Each appeared to be assembled from an extension ladder mounted horizontally with a railing and floor attached to it. The assemblies are attached to a vertical structure that is clamped to the bridge structure.

    Such platforms, Mr. Dysard said, are commonly used in the industry by workers installing wooden forms used in concrete pouring.

    The platforms along the I-280 bridge are positioned at gaps in the parapet walls between long sections built using a forming machine. As concrete is poured to fill each gap, the platforms are relocated to the next one needing to be filled.

    Andrea Voogd, an ODOT spokesman, said the gaps remained at expansion joints, the future locations of streetlight poles, or spots where construction access to the bridge deck below precluded pouring the parapet there when the forming machine was used to build the rest.

    Blade staff writer Julie McKinnon contributed to this report.

    Contact David Patch at: or 419-724-6094.