GENOA – Fifty-nine people went on trial Thursday for the 2018 collapse of Genoa’s Morandi bridge, accused of manslaughter and other charges in the deaths of 43 people.
The defendants include former executives and technical experts of the company that manages many of Italy’s bridges and highways, as well as former officials of the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport.
A huge section of the Morandi bridge broke off during a violent rainstorm on Aug. 14, 2018, when highways were packed on the eve of Italy's biggest summer holiday, sending cars plunging into the dry riverbed below.
Prosecutors have alleged the defendants knew the bridge, which was built in the 1960s, was at risk of collapsing and that corners were cut on maintenance to save money.
The bridge’s designer had recommended regular upkeep to remove rust, especially due to the corrosive effect of moist air from the nearby Ligurian Sea, and maintenance to counter the effect of pollution on concrete.
“There are elements that prove that, since 2013, it was written in documents that the Morandi bridge was at risk of collapsing," said Egle Possetti, a member of the committee of relatives of Morandi victims who attended the hearing.
"In five years, nothing was done. This is unacceptable. So we will fight, as relatives and civil parties, so that this trial will give justice to our families and respect for the dead who aren’t here,” Possetti said outside the tribunal.
In April, a Genoa judge approved plea bargain requests by both the highway company, Autostrade per Italia, and the Spea engineering company, to pay 29 million euros ($33 million) to the Italian government in exchange for avoiding a trial.
The lawyer for former Austostrade CEO Giovanni Castellucci, who is among the defendants, said the trial would show that the bridge collapsed not as a result of maintenance negligence but due to an original “construction defect.”
“This is why 43 people died in a terrifying and absurd way,” lawyer Giovanni Paolo Accinni told reporters Thursday outside the Genoa tribunal.
After an hour of procedural motions, Judge Paolo Lepri adjourned the proceedings and set a new hearing for Sept. 12 in a trial that is expected to take more than a year to reach any verdicts, the LaPresse news agency reported.
Outside the tribunal Thursday, members of Italy's journalists federation protested the decision by the tribunal to bar television cameras from the court, saying it violated Italians' rights to information.
The governor of Liguria, Giovanni Toti, said the start of the trial was important for the region but also for relatives of the victims.
“Starting today, justice and truth are closer and we hope will arrive quickly,” Toti wrote on Facebook. “It's the only way to rebuild the trust between citizens and the state that collapsed on that Godforsaken Aug. 14.”
A replacement bridge, designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, a Genoa native, features 43 lamps in memory of the people who perished.
After the collapse, the Italian government forged a deal in which the Benetton fashion family agreed to sell its ownership stake in Autostrade.
This version corrects the date of the next hearing to Sept. 12.
Winfield reported from Rome.