“These developments and other recent legal proceedings have nothing to do directly with the college,’’ MDC spokesman Juan Mendieta said in an email. “We will comment at the appropriate time in the future when all facts are known. Thoroughness in this process, not expeditiousness, remains our top priority. The college is working with multiple internal and external investigators it has hired.’’
Because of the method used in erecting the garage and the way it collapsed, independent experts early on zeroed in on construction errors, rather than design, as a likely cause.
Like most stand-alone parking structures across the country, the $24.5 million MDC garage was being assembled on site from prefabricated concrete pieces that are hoisted into place like a giant Erector set, and then temporarily shored up until structural elements can be permanently welded, cemented and bolted together. That precast concrete construction approach is fast and relatively inexpensive, but requires close supervision by engineers and contractors, experts say.
The garage caved in without warning while workers were inside two days after the crane struck a column. A cement truck driver was trapped in the cab for hours, and died after emergency workers were forced to amputate his legs to free him.
Christian Ramirez, a 20-year-old laborer, remains in a wheelchair seven months after rescue workers pulled his battered body from the rubble. Ramirez, who attended a news briefing to discuss the OSHA citations at the Coral Gables office of Grossman, his attorney, suffered brain bleeding, seizures and a series of broken bones — from his pelvis to his ankles, wrists and feet — and is still undergoing therapy.
Ramirez said contractors seemed in a rush to complete the project.
“I always though something was going to go wrong,’’ said Ramirez, who was buried in the rubble for about 2½ hours, an experience he described in low, sometimes halting words.
The attorneys said they have retained a team of experts who uncovered far more violations than OSHA has cited. The ruins of the garage revealed a litany of construction short-cuts and inspection failures, all of which likely contributed to the tragic collapse, Grossman said.
The victims’ attorneys said contractors inspected and repaired the column that was struck by the crane, but neglected to check adjacent columns. As it turns out, an adjacent column, identified as B-3 in plans, lacked the needed concrete grouting at the base, they say.
Inspectors missed the lack of concrete because they failed to properly inspect the column after installation and after the crane accident, possibly because the base of that column, like several others in the area, was covered by puddles from recent rains, Gonzalez said.
The OSHA citations note the lack of grouting on the base of column B-3, as well as another column. OSHA also noted that a horizontal support that attaches to column B-3 lacked required welds.
“This was an accident waiting to happen,” Gonzalez said on Wednesday. “They put speed ahead of safety.’’