First lawsuits filed in FIU pedestrian bridge collapse

Scott orders FDOT to withhold federal funding for project during investigation

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor

SWEETWATER, Fla. - Attorneys filed the first two lawsuit Monday on behalf of the victims in the pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University.

Matt Morgan told Local 10 News that he is representing a bicyclist who was hurt when the pedestrian bridge connecting the city of Sweetwater to FIU collapsed Thursday afternoon.

Another lawyer filed on behalf of Alberto Arias, who was crushed with his partner in their vehicle.

The announcements come on the same day that Gov. Rick Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation to suspend the payment of all federal funding for the FIU bridge.

"Today, I am directing FDOT to suspend all future payments of the more than $13.6 million in federal funding originally allocated for this project," Scott said in a statement. "Before another dollar is spent on this bridge, we must know exactly what happened."

Scott ordered that all funding be withheld indefinitely pending the completion of the National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

The FDOT said in a statement Friday that a project manager left a voice mail indicating that there was "some cracking" on the bridge two days before it collapsed.

"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," FIGG lead engineer Denney Pate said in the voice mail.

The FDOT said the message was left on a landline and wasn't heard until the day after the collapse because the intended recipient was out of the office on assignment. The employee listened to the voice mail when he returned to his office Friday.

State officials claim FIU was responsible for the project.

"The responsibility to identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them is the sole responsibility of the FIU design build team," the FDOT said in a statement. "At no point during any of the communications above did FIGG or any member of the FIU design build team ever communicate a life-safety issue."

Miami-Dade police have identified all six victims who were killed in the collapse. Authorities during the weekend removed the bodies of five victims who were trapped in the rubble that fell onto Southwest Eighth Street.

Eight others are being treated for their injuries at Kendall Regional Medical Center.

Meanwhile, a portion of Southwest Eighth Street near the FIU campus will remain closed indefinitely while workers continue to clear the debris from the busy throughway. FIU students are returning from spring break Monday, so the Florida Highway Patrol is cautioning drivers to seek alternate routes and pack some patience.

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