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Divers recover body of man who fell off barge into St. Johns River

Construction worker fell in near Fuller Warren Bridge in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville Sheriff's Office dive team recovered the body of a man who fell off a barge into the St. Johns River on Thursday.

The man's body was found several hours after the search was called off near the Fuller Warren Bridge. He was identified by family members as Stanley Cooper, 51.

JSO said in a tweet that the incident was being investigated as "a tragic accident."

First responders were called to search the river around 10:30 a.m. after Cooper fell off a barge that was in the river for work to widen the bridge. The contractor for the job is Archer Western of Tampa.

Cooper's family told News4Jax that he moved to Jacksonville because of work and loved his job as a crane operator. They said he enjoyed being out on the water and fishing and that he knew how to swim.

Carrenda Kennedy, Cooper's niece, said her uncle worked in construction for 20 years.

"He always had this big, big smile," Kennedy said. "It was just that he went to work today, not knowing what type of day it was."

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue said crews searched under the bridge Thursday morning with help from the Florida Highway Patrol and Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. At that time of day, the currents in the St. Johns River are swift-moving, according to the News4Jax Weather Authority team.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission boats were also on the river near the south end of the bridge, and helicopters conducted low search patterns, trying to find Cooper.

The search was called off at noon, and the JSO dive team took over the recovery effort, FWC officials said.

According to the Coast Guard, the man's body was found before 4 p.m.

Tyler Boylston, a frequent boater, said the current under the bridge can be especially dangerous. 

“The current spirals and kind of pulls you under, so if you would fall out in that water, it would be nearly impossible to go any direction other than down,” Boylston said.

According to a police report, Cooper was not wearing a life jacket. A co-worker threw two life savers and a vest into the water, but it was too late.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Cooper should have been wearing a life jacket:

“Employees walking or working on the unguarded decks of barges shall be protected with U.S. Coast Guard-approved work vests or buoyant vests.”

Photo courtesy of Jacksonville Fire Rescue Twitter page.

Kennedy had questions for the contractor, one in particular, she wanted answered.

"When he went to do his job, did he have everything he needed to make sure if an accident was to happen, would he come out safely?" Kennedy said.

A statement from Archer Westen in response to the incident reads:

We are saddened to report that a worker died this morning on the Fuller Warren Bridge project in Jacksonville, FL. Work on the bridge has been suspended while we investigate the incident with local authorities and provide support to affected individuals and families. We extend our deepest sympathies to the worker’s family and our sincere thanks to the first responders for all of their efforts.

News4Jax searched OSHA records for the past 10 years for Archer Western and found several serious violations.

In February 2018, two workers were killed in Miami when a concrete barrier fell on them. The company was fined $33,000 for three serious violations. It is contesting the finding.

A worker suffered heat exhaustion on the job in July 2017 and Archer Western was given a reprimand by OSHA.

And OSHA fined the company $10,000 in April 2017 for a serious violation.

An OSHA spokesperson said the agency is investigating Thursday's incident.