Engineer ignored warning signs before FIU bridge collapse, report says

Road should have been shut after inspection hours before collapse, officials say

By Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - Federal officials investigating the Florida International University bridge collapse found in a new report that Southwest Eighth Street should have been closed after the chief engineer inspected the bridge hours before the collapse.

On March 15, 2018, the recently installed pedestrian bridge fell onto moving traffic below, killing six people and injuring eight.

The report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that the engineer of record inspected the 930-ton bridge hours before the collapse and found numerous wide and deep structural cracks. Yet the lead engineer, Denney Pate of FIGG Bridge Group, downplayed the cracks in a voicemail to state officials.

"We've taken a look at it and, obviously, some repairs or whatever will have to be done, but from a safety perspective, we don't see that there's any issue there, so we're not concerned about it from that perspective," Pate said in the message.

The report found that the street should have been closed immediately after the inspection and steps should have been taken to shore up the structure. Instead, workers went ahead with making adjustments to the bridge, ultimately triggering the collapse.

Overall, the investigators found that the cracks were the result of "deficient structural design."

Munilla Construction Management, which built the bridge, was also cited in the report. The company's workers had reported that the cracks were getting larger. But, Pate wrote in an email on March 13 that the cracks "have not grown in size," citing the MCM workers at the site as his source. OSHA investigators said MCM should have alerted Pate that his information was incorrect.

The report said MCM "failed to exercise its own independent professional judgement" to shut down the street. The report said MCM had extensive experience with concrete structures and should not have deferred to Pate's assessment in light of the widening cracks.

Subcontractor Kevin Hanson warned colleagues about the cracks five days before the collapse.

The report notes that subcontractors had alerted MCM of the dangers days before the collapse.

Kevin Hanson, a supervisor with subcontractor Structural Technologies VSL found cracks in the bridge five days before the collapse. The report said he became visibly disturbed and told his colleagues and MCM employees of the situation. He also took photos of the cracks and sent them to his supervisor with the note, “It cracked like hell.”

In a statement, FIGG Bridge Engineers called the report factually inaccurate and incomplete and said it contained errors and flawed analyses.

"It does not include an evaluation of many important factors pertinent to the construction process leading up to the accident. Additionally, it has not been reviewed by any other entities involved in the accident investigation," the statement said. "At the appropriate time the facts and the truth will be released to the public."

The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the causes of the collapse and FIGG Bridge Engineers said it was cooperating with that inquiry.

MCM went bankrupt after the collapse. A deal was recently reached in court, granting $42 million in insurance proceeds to the families of people who were killed in the collapse.

Copyright 2019 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.