Condition of worker hurt in California overpass collapse improves | SierraSun.com

Condition of worker hurt in California overpass collapse improves

Don Thompson
Associated Press Writer

OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) ” A construction worker who fell 50 feet when a highway overpass he was working on collapsed was upgraded to fair condition Wednesday, as officials tried to determine what caused the structure to give way.

Jeffrey Doll, 39, of Olivehurst was airlifted to Enloe Medical Center in Chico, where he underwent surgery after fracturing his pelvis, left elbow and lower left leg in the Tuesday morning collapse.

Doll had been listed in serious condition but had improved by Wednesday morning, hospital spokeswoman Sharon Cuglietta said.

Highway 149 remained closed after an estimated 70 tons of steel came crashing down, as crews worked to stabilize the remaining structure. Detours were established until the highway could be reopened, perhaps by 3 p.m. Wednesday.

“Overnight, they were shoring up the sections on either side of it,” said Mark Dinger, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation. “We want to make sure everything is doubly safe and secure before we open it up to traffic.”

Hours before the collapse, workers with private contractor FCI Constructors Inc. of Benicia had erected concrete columns and steel tubes for the overpass connecting highways 149 and 70 in Butte County, about an hour north of Sacramento. The $105 million project began last summer and was scheduled to be completed in fall 2009, California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Karen Ogle said.

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FCI has been cited twice for safety violations since 2003, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In May 2003, it received a $675 federal fine for failing to have adequate fall protection on a bridge project, and in September 2004 the state fined the company $300 for having combustible equipment near a fuel station.

The company also was one of three contractors, all working under the name KFM, fined a total of $5,790 for failing to report 13 worker injuries on the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge skyway project in June 2006.

FCI President Curtis Weltz, who arrived at the site after the collapse, said he did not yet know what caused the breakdown. He declined to comment about the company’s previous safety violations.

Jacque Underdown, a spokeswoman for the project’s second contractor, Granite Construction Co. of Watsonville, said the company was cooperating with state agencies leading the investigation.

During the collapse, two steel beams fell onto a FedEx delivery truck, crushing its hood and back end and requiring firefighters to cut its driver out of the cab. Robert Sylvester, 45, was trapped in the truck for about 2 1/2 hours, but eventually was freed with only a sprained ankle and minor cuts, his wife, Carol, told The Associated Press.

“We’ve gone from thinking he was absolutely the unluckiest person to the luckiest,” Carol Sylvester said after bringing her husband home from Enloe Medical Center.

FedEx was planning to retrieve the packages damaged in the accident.

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Associated Press Writer Samantha Young in Sacramento contributed to this report.