Work plan possibly ignored in accident that killed family

AP News
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Posted: Apr 16, 2015 5:52 PM
Work plan possibly ignored in accident that killed family

BONNEY LAKE, Wash. (AP) — Officials in the Washington city where a concrete slab fell from an overpass and killed a young family in a pickup below say they would've closed the roadway if they had known heavy work was being performed on the structure.

John Woodcock, chief engineer for Bonney Lake, told KING-TV (http://is.gd/Clcl28) that the contractor, WHH Nisqually Federal Services, and its subcontractors told the city they would be performing work elsewhere on the site Monday.

If crews were going to be cutting or dismantling concrete slabs on the overpass, the city would have insisted on closing the road below, Woodcock said. The subcontractors included Staton Companies, American Concrete Cutting and Highmark Construction

Mayor Neil Johnson issued a statement saying that according to a plan filed with the city, no demolition work was scheduled to occur Monday, when the accident happened. It killed Josh and Vanessa Ellis and their 8-month-old son, Hudson.

Johnson says the contract for the work expressly requires the contractor to protect traffic from falling concrete and debris.

"We are still looking into whether the demolition plan was followed," he said. "The city performs regular inspections of work in progress, but is not continually on site and had no inspector present at the time of the accident."

The work was part of a $1.7?million project to add lights and a sidewalk along Highway 410. The demolition plan called for the bridge to be cut into segments, with the sections removed by heavy machinery.

WHH Nisqually Federal Services is also the management contractor for Sound Transit's massive light rail station at the University of Washington and for a taxiway at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord air field. The company declined to comment pending the investigation.

Jeanne Staton, president of Eugene, Oregon-based Staton Companies, said in a statement reported by The Seattle Times that the demolition team is experienced.

"In our 43-year history, we have never had an accident of this tragic magnitude," she said. "What caused this accident is not known at this time. Staton Companies and American Concrete Cutting are fully cooperating with investigators."

The Bonney Lake Police Department is interviewing witnesses and construction workers and plans to release its preliminary findings Monday.

In 911 recordings from the accident, three separate callers identified themselves as construction workers and described working on the overpass when the concrete fell, KING reported.

"The barrier I was cutting fell off and smashed a car," one said.

The Ellises were youth pastors at Eastpointe Foursquare Church in Pierce County.