At Least 35 Dead in Bridge Collapse

Contractor Denies It Contributed to NO Levee Break

Fri October 14, 2005 - National Edition
CEG



SOUTHPORT, FL (AP) A construction company based in the Florida Panhandle has denied allegations in a federal lawsuit that it was partly to blame for the failure of a New Orleans levee after Hurricane Katrina.

Daniel Becnel Jr., a Reserve, LA, lawyer, has sued Gulf Group Inc. of Southport, a Panama City suburb, in New Orleans. He claims vehicles and heavy equipment the company left on the 17th Street Canal levee contributed to its failure. Gulf Group was building a bridge near the levee.

“The affected area is 300 yards from the bridge we built,” Gulf Group vice president Sam Stone said. “The only thing that’s still standing out there is that bridge we built.”

Stone called the suit “frivolous” and said Becnel is known for filing baseless claims.

“This is the typical lawyer that gives lawyers a bad name,” he said.

Becnel said he hopes to expand the litigation with other defendants, possibly including the Army Corps of Engineers, after further research. He said the levee’s base material was not sunk deeply enough when it was built and recent dredging weakened it.

The suit has been filed as a class action on behalf of people affected by flooding after the levee failed.

“I have more victims than I know what to do with, and they’re just furious,” Becnel said.