Trackhoe Possible Cause of Fatal MS Bridge Beam Collapse

Fri November 07, 2003 - Southeast Edition

HERNANDO, MS (AP) The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is assisting in the investigation of the collapse of six concrete steel-reinforced beams that killed a Horn Lake, MS, man.

The beams, 98 ft. (29.9 m) long and weighing 40,000 lbs. (18,000 kg), fell Oct. 20 crushing 20-year-old Jerrell Robinson’s Saturn and killing him instantly. Robinson had been on his way to work at Domino’s Pizza in Hernando when the accident occurred around 3:30 p.m.

A trackhoe, operated by an Arkansas man, may have knocked into the beams and sent them tumbling. The man worked for a Memphis, TN –based subcontractor.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) is not conducting a separate investigation, said Danny Walker, MDOT district construction engineer.

“We will probably take [OSHA’s] reports and see if there is anything we need to do differently on future projects,” Walker said.

The beams were resting unsecured on top of two columns on each side of U.S. 51 at the project approximately 20 mi. south of Memphis.

Contractors leave the beams unsecured anywhere from a week to a month during the building process.

Typically these beams are safe, said J. Hal Deatherage, a structural professor in the civil engineering department of the University of Tennessee. It would take something knocking into the beams to make them fall.

The other sections of the fallen one were secured. But crews had not worked their way to the last set at the time of the accident.

U.S. 51 was open to through traffic during construction on Oct. 20, which is a common procedure in projects like this, said Walker.

All the normal construction practices were followed in this project, said Kenny Gunn, project manager for Nashville, TN-based Harper Construction, the primary contractor on the project.

“This was just an accident. It was not supposed to happen,” he said.

Gunn said for now the company has no plans to do anything differently.

“You don’t want to deviate too much from the normal construction practices,” he said. “The practices have been proven time and time again. At this point, without any details, I can’t speculate what might or could be done differently as far as the erection practice.”

Gunn said it’s too early to know how this accident will affect the timeline for the project. The company is building a new route for Mississippi 304 between Interstate 55 and U.S. 61 that includes an on and off ramp at I-55. The Mississippi 304 was scheduled for completion in the spring of 2005.

Although work continued on the bridge the day following the accident over U.S. 51, workers left untouched the collapsed section.

“As of right now we’re at a standstill on this particular structure,” Gunn said. “We’ve got it so traffic can travel on [U.S.] 51 until the investigation is complete. Then we’ll clear the debris and reset the beams.” The Hernando Police Department still has not officially said the trackhoe caused the accident. Police chief Mike Riley said the accident is still under investigation.