JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The parents of a construction worker killed when a parking garage of a new high-rise condominium collapsed late last year said Thursday they have proof the construction company ignored warnings about the safety of the structure -- an allegation that the company strongly rejects.
The six-story garage under construction for the Berkman Plaza II high-rise collapsed on Dec. 6, 2007, killing Willie Edwards III and injuring 23 others.
Last month, the general contractor, Choate Construction Inc., was cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration for a willful violation that carries a $49,500 fine.
Choate responded by saying two outside forensic engineering firms found that the fatal collapse was due to significant deficiencies in the design performed by the owner's structural engineer, Structural Consulting Group, LLC.
Edwards' family, their attorney and a former Choate supervisor on Thursday released information they said proves the construction company was warned the structure was unsafe.
"It's a shame my son died because of profit over safety," said Willie Edwards Jr.
Edwards III, who was 26, was the father of two who was working an extra shift to earn money for Christmas when the garage collapsed.
Former Choate superintendent Greg Roberts said he always made audio recordings of meetings and said a tape he recorded five months before the garage collapsed proves the company knew there were major problems with the structure.
One of those tapes included this exchange: Roberts: "I've never seen that many cables in a beam before."
Engineer: "That's what I'm telling them, it's not going to work. It's not."
"This is the proverbial smoking gun, and it really shows the conduct of these companies," said the Edwards' attorney, Benjamin Crump.
Roberts said he also recorded a June 2007 conference call that included Choate officials and some subcontractors when there was a discussion of a problem with beams used to support the concrete structure.
Unknown voice: "So this is one of those things that looks good on paper, but when you go to put it together, it's not physically possible?"
Engineer: "I've been crying about this from the beginning."
Unknown voice: "When?"
Engineer: "When? When I was designing this damn thing."
Unknown voice: "What do you think? What's our best route now; the most painless?"
Roberts said he was asked to resign about a month after that exchange.
"I did let them know before I left, if they didn't change the safety habits and make some changes, within six months they would kill somebody," Roberts said.
Also released Thursday were e-mails that Roberts said he exchanged with Choate Officials requesting a peer review of the project.
In one of those e-mails, that idea was rejected and Roberts was told: "A peer review initiated by us would most certainly sever any relationships between the parties going forward...."
The e-mail from Choate management said such a review should be the "...absolute last resort for us..." and "...it would only come if we have determined we must somehow defend ourselves in a legal showdown."
"They all knew, and their conduct was reprehensible," Crump said.
Crump said the Edwards family is turning the information over to U.S. and state attorneys for a possible criminal investigation. He is also preparing a civil lawsuit on behalf of the Edwards family and his children.
"It's a shame my son died because of profit over safety," said Willie Edwards Jr., the victim's father. "That's all I have to say about this situation."
"My heart is broken ... to know my son was taken from us because of the greed of companies," said Melanie Wesley, the victim's mother.
Late Thursday, Choate issued Channel 4 a written response to Roberts' allegations, saying in part: "Choate has not had an opportunity to review the materials that allegedly support his contention; however, based on what has been released, they have clearly been taken out of context."
The company also called Roberts a "hostile ex-employee" and they are involved in litigation with him over "his appropriation of Choate property. The company also said he had demonstrated "a record of untruthfulness, including submitting a falsified employment application...."
Choate wrote that it "would never proceed with the construction of a project if it were aware of such design deficiencies which would result in a structure collapse, nor would there be any motive to do so."
- September 25, 2008: Construction Company Blames Design Flaws For Fatal Garage Collapse
- June 3, 2008: OSHA Fines Contractors Over Collapse
- May 30, 2008: Garage Collapse Survivor Dies In Crash
- December 17, 2007: Work Stops At Berkman Plaza II After Collapse
- December 17, 2007: Man Killed In Collapse Remembered As Hard-Working Father
- December 14, 2007: 911 Callers First To Alert Rescuers Of Collapse
- December 12, 2007: Firefighters Describe Search For Survivors Of Garage Collapse
- December 11, 2007: Garage Collapse Focus Turns To Cause, Future
- December 8, 2007: Missing Worker's Body Found In Parking Garage Rubble
- December 7, 2007: Collapse Rescue Effort Enters Second Night
- December 6, 2007: Rescuers, Dogs Continue Search For Missing Worker
- December 6, 2007: 18 Hospitalized, 1 Missing After Parking Garage Collapse
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