Second lawsuit in FIU bridge collapse will have wider mandate

Attorney for victims' families plans to target FIU, state transportation agency

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter, Tim Swift

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - Oswald Gonzalez and Alberto Arias died together. They were crushed in their white van by the tons of concrete as a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University collapsed last week. Now their families want to make sure someone is held accountable for their deaths and those of four others.

On Monday, a man who was hurt in the collapse sued the bridge contractor, MCM, and the private engineering firms that designed and inspected it.

However, in the coming days, the Arias and Gonzalez families plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit targeting not only MCM and the engineering firm, but also FIU and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) -- government entities whose financial liabilities are capped.

"We are gathering information through a team of engineers and obviously the NTSB report. We are waiting for that," said Yesenia Collazo, an attorney for the Gonzalez and Arias families.

The families gathered in Collazo's office Tuesday. The lawsuit is ready to file, but the legal battle will wait until they lay their loved ones to rest later this week, they said.

The families said Gonzalez and Arias, both natives of Cuba, had been life partners for 21 years and run a successful party planning business together.

Luis Arias, Alberto Arias' nephew, called the pair "soulmates" and said they would be buried together.

The bridge, which was to connect the FIU campus with the city of Sweetwater, was set to open next year. Using modular construction methods, the main span was assembled off-site and moved into place last weekend like a piece of a puzzle to avoid closing traffic on Eighth Street.

FIU touted it as the largest pedestrian bridge in the nation to ever use the innovative method. When the bridge collapsed, the tall tower that was designed to hold the cables attached to the platform had not been installed.

Investigators said the bridge collapsed as workers were conducting a stress test.

"Why, if they were testing this bridge, weren't the roads closed," Collazo asked.

The National Transportation Safety Board was on the scene of the collapse collecting evidence this weekend as more details emerged that warnings about the bridge had gone unheeded.

An engineer on the project left a voice mail that warned the FDOT about "some cracking" on the bridge before the collapse.

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 the day after the collapse.

"Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes no one is to blame, but not this time. This is not that case," Collazo said.

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