OSHA says fatal I-90 construction accident was 'preventable'
A construction worker was killed and three other workers injured when a beam fell on a crew of workers in Des Plaines on April 5, 2016. (WGN-TV / Chicago Tribune)
Megan Crepeau, Tony Briscoe and Lee V. Gaines Chicago Tribune
A worker from Berwyn was killed and three others were injured early Tuesday when a 45-ton beam fell at a construction site in Des Plaines, officials said.
The crew members were in lifts on Touhy Avenue working to remove the beam under the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (Interstate 90) about 3 a.m. when the beam collapsed, officials said.
One of the workers, later identified as Vicente Santoyo, 47, was taken in critical condition to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge and later pronounced dead. Three others were taken to hospitals with minor injuries, according to Des Plaines fire Chief Alan Wax. Touhy Avenue was expected to remain closed through Wednesday, officials said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in a news release Tuesday said the incident was "preventable."
"At OSHA, we're confident every incident such as this is preventable if all OSHA standards and regulations are followed," agency spokesman Scott Allen said.
OSHA, according to the release, has opened an investigation with Omega Demolition Corp. of Elgin, which employed the worker who was killed, and Judlau Contracting Inc. of New York, the general contractor on the site. Officials from Omega and Judlau were not immediately available for comment.
"OSHA is currently on scene and will conduct a thorough investigation into this tragic and preventable incident," Larry Joswiak, OSHA's acting area director in Des Plaines, said Tuesday morning.
A 45-ton beam fell, killing one construction worker and injuring three, on the I-90 expressway at Touhy Road in Des Plaines where it was being removed about 3 a.m. on April 5, 2016. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)
Since 2006, OSHA has issued nine citations to Omega Demolition mainly focused on lead hazards nationwide. The company has paid a total of $6,465 in penalties for the violations.
An official with Laborers Local 225 said Santoyo, the dead worker, had worked in construction in the Chicago area for more than 20 years.
"He was a great guy, a hard worker," said Adolfo Zamora, secretary-treasurer of Laborers Local 225. "He always came in at least a half-hour early to his shift. He gave you a hard day's work for a day's worth of pay."
The cause of the accident was not immediately known, Wax said. He said the beam is 180 feet long and weighs 45 tons.
"An OSHA complaint officer is conducting interviews, talking to witnesses, talking to the employer to determine what might have caused the accident," said Allen, the agency spokesman.
Allen said reports indicated Omega Demolition "was removing a large support beam when part of it collapsed on workers." He said initial reports said "a strap or chain supporting the beam may have failed." OSHA investigators will be looking specifically into whether there were "enough support straps to support such a large beam."
Allen said that typically a work site where a fatality occurs is suspended until OSHA completes its preliminary investigation.
Touhy Avenue, a main artery, was expected to remain closed in the area through Wednesday, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Motorists traveling on Touhy will be asked to follow posted detours around the area. Des Plaines police Chief Bill Kushner said eight electronic message boards in the area were advising motorists what alternate routes to take.
Two eastbound lanes and one westbound lane on I-90 were expected to remain closed near Touhy Avenue at least through Tuesday evening rush hour, according to Illinois Tollway spokesman Dan Rozek.
Kushner said Tuesday afternoon that OSHA completed its initial investigation and it was up to a demolition company to determine how to remove the fallen beam from the roadway. He described the beam as "bent and twisted."
"They're still trying to figure out how to cut it, where to cut it and how to lift it out of there," he said.
Once the beam is removed, Kushner said, IDOT will determine whether the roadway is safe. Kushner estimated midafternoon that the process would take another 12 to 16 hours to complete.
The beam that fell had supported the old westbound lanes of I-90, which were being rebuilt as part of the massive reconstruction project to widen the roadway between Elgin and Chicago from six to eight lanes by this year.
When asked if the incident could affect the project's work timeline, an Illinois Tollway spokesman declined to comment.
"We will immediately begin our work with local authorities and OSHA to learn the causes of this accident," Illinois Tollway Executive Director Greg Bedalov said in a statement. "The safety of our employees, the contractors working on our roadways, as well as the motoring public are always of the highest importance at our agency."
Temporary westbound lanes on I-90 had been in the eastbound part of the road, which has been rebuilt.
There were four beams beneath the old westbound lanes over Touhy. Two had been removed. Kushner said there was concern the beam that fell Tuesday might have compromised the fourth remaining beam, and there is concern that Touhy might have to stay closed even longer until officials can determine the condition of the fourth beam.
The accident forced longer delays than normal on the roadway, which is often delayed because of construction.
Mercedes Gasca, who lives in the 2300 block of Westview Drive, near the accident site, said she heard something early Tuesday morning but didn't think much of it because "there's always noise" coming from the construction site. Nightly disturbances, she said, have become a routine over the past eight months.
Gasca said she's praying for Santoyo's family and described the accident as "very, very sad."
Socorro Huerta said it took her an extra 20 minutes Tuesday morning to get to her parents' home in the 2300 block of Webster Lane, about a block away from the scene of the accident. She said her parents told her they didn't hear anything in the middle of the night.
"Before he went to sleep, (my father) said he went out for a cigarette and just saw sparks of fire" coming from the area, she said.
Since construction on the Jane Addams began last year, traffic in the area has been a "pain," Huerta said, but especially so Tuesday with the addition of the road closure.
Rob Stevens, who manages Barnaby's Family Inn near the corner of Wolf Road and Touhy, said he expects the traffic closure to keep customers away from the restaurant. The only people inside the pizza and burger spot shortly after it opened Tuesday morning were construction crews and restaurant employees.
Stevens said OSHA representatives asked if the construction workers could stay in the restaurant while the agency interviewed them about the accident and he obliged.
He said the monthslong construction project has taken a toll on his business but that he expected Tuesday to be especially slow.
When asked if business had slowed because of the road closure, an employee at a Speedway convenience store and gas station east of the tollway who declined to be named said, "What do you think?"
A few men in construction gear milled around the convenience store while a taxi filled up outside at a pump.