Parking Garage Collapses on NIH Campus in Bethesda

Tue December 14, 2004 - National Edition
Candace Smith

BETHESDA, MD (AP) A construction worker was killed Monday, Nov. 29, in the collapse of a parking garage.

Ronal Alvarado Gochez, of Falls Church, VA, was pinned under tons of debris when portions of the top two floors of the six-story garage collapsed around 9 a.m. The garage was nearing completion on the campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

While the cause remained under investigation, NIH said it believes a beam slipped and hit one of the floors, causing it to collapse on the next one down.

Gochez was employed by Virginia-based Williams Steel Erection Inc., a subcontractor on the project. Authorities believe he was killed instantly.

“I heard a real loud noise,” said Justin Morales, an electrician working on the second floor at the time of the collapse. Morales said everyone around him quickly cleared out, though rescuers had to lead others to safety. More than a dozen workers were initially trapped in the debris and had to be led to safety or rescued with a fire department cherry picker.

Dogs and cranes that were brought in to sift through debris were able to locate the victim. His remains were recovered around 8:30 p.m.

“We had a secondary collapse in the vicinity of the original area,” approximately a half hour after Gochez’s remains were recovered, said Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesman Pete Piringer.

That secondary collapse included portions of all five floors of the structure. Portions of the structure that had been reinforced during the initial search for the victims remained intact, but officials were concerned about their stability. All fire department personnel escaped safely, Piringer said.

NIH said construction on the 930-vehicle garage began in December 2003, and it was due to be finished in February or March.

The sprawling campus of the federal agency covers more than 300 acres in a suburban area approximately 9 mi. northwest of downtown Washington, D.C.