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Operator of Crane in Deadly Accident Reportedly Attempted Suicide Twice

November 30, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The operator of a crane that plummeted 16 floors, killing five people, twice tried to commit suicide during the last nine months and was a chronic alcoholic, according to published reports today.

Lonnie Boggess, the 45-year-old crane operator who was among those killed, also had been hospitalized for psychiatric observation twice since March, according to court documents obtained by McClatchy Newspapers.

The Sacramento Bee and The Morning News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash., where Boggess lived, said his 14-year-old daughter, Christine, testified in January that he ″drank to the point of drunkenness on a regular basis.″

The San Francisco coroner’s office said Wednesday an autopsy would attempt to determine Boggess’ blood-alcohol level at the time of death. It is to be made public within two weeks, the newspapers reported.

Boggess’ employer, the Erection Co. of Kirkland, Wash., refused to comment.

Swinerton & Walberg Co., the general contractor for the high-rise project, also refused to comment about Boggess’ personal problems, the newspapers said.

When told of the reports about Boggess’ past, including his two recent suicide attempts, Fire Chief Fred Postel said: ″Oh, no 3/8 You’ve got to be kidding 3/8″

Bogess’ brother, John, said today that the crane operator had a drinking problem and that he worried about him ″all the time because he was in a high- risk job.″

″He told me he was considering admitting himself to a program to dry out after this job was over,″ he said.

Family members were also ″concerned about, perhaps, a heart problem or stroke,″ although he said he had no specific information that his sibling had a heart condition. ″We mostly were concerned about high cholesterol,″ said the brother, a sales executive in the San Joaquin Valley city of Exeter.

Gordy Howins, business agent of Local 612 of the International Union of Operating Engineers in Tacoma, defended Boggess as ″just a pure professional in every sense of the word.″ He said Boggess was in demand by ″every employer that he worked for.″

The newspapers, citing a sheriff’s report, said Boggess barricaded himself in his home with a gun in March. ″I have a gun,″ Boggess yelled to officers outside. ″Go ahead and shoot me.″

Boggess also attempted suicide April 3 when he locked himself in a garage and turned on the ignition of his pickup truck, sheriff’s deputies said. Officers found Boggess unconscious, and transferred him to a mental hospital, according to records.

Court records stemming from a bitter divorce and child-custody dispute also reveal a history of Boggess’ domestic violence, the newspapers said.

The crane collapse, which also injured 21 people, is under investigation by city, state and federal officials as well as Swinerton & Walberg.

The contractor said the accident apparently was triggered when the crane head rotated 180 degrees, causing the counterweight to crash into a section being inserted into the crane.

It said the rotation occurred ″for unknown reasons,″ causing the 240-ton crane to tumble onto a busy street in the heart of the city’s financial district during Tuesday morning’s rush hour. Besides Boggess, three ironworkers and a bus driver were killed.

Boggess reportedly was seen slumped over the controls as the crane began its plunge, authorities said.

″We’re waiting for the coroner’s report to find out whether there may have been a heart attack or something like that, because we have heard - they are unconfirmed reports - that someone saw him slumped over,″ said District Attorney Arlo Smith.

″We’re trying to find that individual, if there is somebody, who reported seeing that.″

The accident occurred as workers were jacking up the crane from the 16th to the 20th floor of the 21-story office building.

Raising a crane is ″historically a very safe operation,″ said Hamilton Fairburn, a deputy chief with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The district attorney said part of the crane has been removed and is under guard to ″guarantee the integrity of the evidence.″

″Also, we want to get in touch with union representatives to check another unconfirmed report, that one worker left the job a week or so ago on grounds that he had safety concerns,″ said Smith.

Swinerton twice previously was accused of criminal negligence in Los Angeles, and one of those instances stemmed from another fatal crane collapse, according to the city attorney’s office. Charges were dropped in one case; the other case resulted in Swinerton agreeing to sponsor a safety seminar for contractors and make a donation to a labor safety board, authorities said.

In addition, Erection Co., the subcontractor, has been cited four times - and fined in three of those instances - for safety violations since 1987, including once for a fatal accident, according to Washington state Department of Labor and Industries records.

The massive job of removing debris from the streets will probably take at least two weeks, officials said.

A gas leak caused by the collapse had worsened and authorities shut off gas for 28 customers.

Two other buildings near the intersection of California and Kearny streets were damaged as parts of the crane crashed to the ground. One is open with restricted access; the other sustained major damage to the roof and penthouse, the general contractor said.

A 4-square-block area remained closed to allow crews to shore up damaged buildings and clear the wreckage of crushed vehicles and debris.

Only five of the 21 people hurt remained hospitalized. Their conditions ranged from good to serious but stable, said San Francisco General Hospital officials.

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