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Massive Cleanup Operation at Crane Collapse that Killed Five

November 30, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The company operating a construction crane that collapsed and fell 16 stories, killing five people,″has one of the poorest safety records in the industry″ in its home state, an official said.

Erection Co. of Kirkland, Wash., has been fined for safety violations at least eight times, including four since 1987, according to Washington state Department of Labor and Industries records.

In August 1988, it was cited for a ″serious, willful violation″ of state safety laws after a worker fell 123 feet to his death, said John Akins, department spokesman. Erection is appealing a $24,500 fine, he said.

Telephone calls to company offices were not returned Wednesday.

Construction officials said they have no idea why the 240-ton crane snapped and fell Tuesday morning while it was being moved to allow work at the top of a 20-story high-rise being built for the Federal Home Loan Bank in the city’s Financial District.

The crane plunged 200 feet to the street, whipping into two other buildings and smashing vehicles below. Five people were killed and 21 injured.

Four of those killed were jacking the crane from the 16th floor to the 20th floor of the high-rise. The other victim was the driver of a bus that was taking disabled children to school.

″This was not considered a dangerous procedure at all,″ said Larry Duggan, a vice president for the project’s general contractor, Swinerton & Walberg Co. of San Francisco.

Swinerton & Walberg itself has faced criminal negligence charges twice before, once stemming from another fatal crane collapse, according to Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Michael Guarino.

Hamilton Fairburn, deputy chief of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the investigation of the accident is continuing and no possible causes have been eliminated.

Fairburn said investigators have ″given a low priority to wind as a factor″ and referred to the raising of the crane operation, which was underway when the accident occurred, as ″historically a very safe operation.″

The coroner’s office on Wednesday identified the dead workers as Paul Cline, 49, of Renton, Wash.; Lonnie Boggess, 45, of Tacoma, Wash.; Steve Tilton, 25, of Spanaway, Wash.; and David Graden, 34, of Kirkland, Wash. Boggess was at the controls of the crane when it collapsed. The bus driver was Kathleen Holden, 39, of Berkeley.

Five people remained hospitalized Wednesday; one was in serious condition, three were fair and one was listed as good, said Gloria Rodriquez, a spokeswoman for San Francisco General Hospital.

As workers cleaned up the debris Wednesday, authorities shut off the gas supply for 28 businesses in a seven-block area because of a worsening gas leak caused by the crane collapse.

Workers clearing away debris found part of the crane’s counterweight embedded in pavement directly over a main gas line.

The Fire Department told Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to close the area’s gas supply so the counterweight could be lifted, allowing officials to survey damage to the 16-inch main gas line, said PG&E spokesman Ron Rutkowski.

Nearly half the customers should get their gas restored by Thursday after an auxiliary gas line is installed, he said.

The huge job of removing debris will probably take at least two weeks, according to an official in charge of the operation.

″It will take that just to pull stuff off the roof,″ said Barney Bloat, superintendent of Sheedy Drayage Co.

Guarino, the Los Angeles deputy city attorney, said charges were filed against the construction company after a crane collapsed in Los Angeles in 1981, killing two people. The case was dropped because prosecutors wanted to prove only culpable negligence, but state labor code requires proof of wanton and willful disregard for human safety, Guarino said.

In 1986, Swinerton was a co-defendant with another construction company in a case involving an overloaded steel superstructure on a 21-story building in Los Angeles. Three ironworkers were killed when girders crashed through a floor, Guarino said.

That case resulted in Swinerton agreeing to sponsor a safety seminar for downtown Los Angeles contractors and to make a donation to a labor safety board, he said.

Swinerton did not repond to telephone calls Wednesday requesting comment on the charges.

Akins, the Washington state labor official, said the crane subcontractor, Erection Co., ″has one of the poorest safety records in the industry″ in Washington.

In November 1988, the company was fined $41,000 for numerous worker-safety violations at an office tower under construction, said department spokesman Dick Kunkle.

The San Francisco project began in January and has received no safety citations, Swinerton officials said.

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