Fatal construction accident still under investigation

Construction crews and Bonney Lake police examine the overpass for any additional safety hazards.

It’s been described as the worst tragedy the city of Bonney Lake has ever seen.

The untimely deaths of Josh, Vanessa, and eight-month old Hudson Ellis early last week brought emotional turmoil to the Bonney Lake community and spurred city officials and company investigators to meticulously scrutinize what construction workers were doing on the morning of April 13 and why the barrier wall on the state Route 410 overpass fell onto Angeline Road.

While the investigation is still on-going and information continues to surface, Bonney Lake officials have made it clear they believe the demolition of the SR 410 barrier wall was to occur at a later date and the bridge demolition plan may not have been followed by subcontractors working on the project.

The various companies working on the SR 410 sidewalk project, including WHH Nisqually Federal Services, Highmark Concrete Contractors, Staton Companies and American Concrete Cutters, remain tight-lipped.

“Staton company wishes to extend it’s sincere and heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of the Ellises,” said Mark Scheer, attorney for Staton Company.

While Scheer only represents Staton, his statement epitomizes other statements made by the rest of the companies involved in the SR 410 project.

“This has been a very big tragedy for everyone involved,” Scheer said. “The company is cooperating with all aspects of the investigation and has no further comment at this time.”

Widening the overpass

The SR 410 Sidewalk Project involved widening the 410 overpass above Angeline Road to install a sidewalk so pedestrians and bicyclists can cross the bridge safely.

On Dec. 13, 2014, the city of Bonney Lake officially hired WHH Nisqually Federal Services to be the prime contractor of the project.

On bid submission documents, WHH Nisqually listed Highmark Concrete Contractors and Transportation System Inc. as subcontractors for the project.

Highmark hired Staton Companies to help with the partial bridge demolition, according to bridge demolition plan documents.

Staton Companies hired American Concrete Cutting to also help with the partial bridge demolition.

According to Bonney Lake spokesperson Woody Edvalson, the project cost about $1.8 million.

Construction on the project has been temporarily halted to allow for further investigation and review of construction practices and procedures, according to a press release from Bonney Lake.

Meeting notes reveal proposed work schedule

According Edvalson, the city officials and project contractors, including Highmark, have met every Monday for the past several weeks to discuss work plans and schedules.

During the April 6 meeting, company and city officials discussed the proposed work schedule for the next two weeks.

The meeting notes, written by a Bonney Lake official, shows there was no planned partial demolition of the SR 410 barrier wall between April 6 and April 17.

Instead, the proposed schedule for April 13 was to complete the cutting of geo-foam blocks, installing a conduit for lighting, and installing bars for concrete.

According to Edvalson, the city expected the subject of barrier wall demolition to be discussed before action would be taken, and the city was taken by surprise when they found out demolition work had started.

“When the accident occurred, that was our first notice that they were doing something out there to the bridge barrier,” Edvalson said. “We didn’t know when they would start that, but since it hadn’t been discussed in those weekly meetings, the city’s assumption was that (the demolition) wasn’t going to be pursued.”

Part of discussing the demolition plan, said Edvalson, would have included reviewing a Site Specific Safety Plan (SSSP) drawn up by Highmark Concrete Contractors.

Edvalson said no SSSP documents were received by the city or discussed during the weekly meetings.

Edvalson also said the city was not aware of any demolition equipment movement or on-site flaggers until after the barrier wall fell because the demolition was not discussed.

Was the demolition plan followed?

Not only was the city not expecting the demolition of the barrier wall to start on April 13, Edvalson said, but city officials believe the demolition plan was also not followed properly.

According to the BR. 410 Partial Demolition Plan, available on Bonney Lake’s website, the barrier wall was to be cut in two different ways.

First, the barrier was to be cut vertically, separating chunks of the barrier into 8 or 10 foot sections.

The barrier would then be cut horizontally at the bottom of the barrier, separating the barrier from rebar that helped support the barrier wall.

A small section of concrete on the outside edge of the barrier would remain uncut by construction workers to keep the barrier attached to the bridge.

These sections of the bridge were to be tipped off the bridge edge to “cleanly break free the small un-saw cut portion,” according to the demolition plan.

Then the concrete sections, weighing between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds, would be pulled forward over the bridge and trucked away.

Edvalson said it seems the construction crew was not following this plan.

“It doesn’t appear that they were cutting and demolishing this bridge barrier in pieces, because in the aftermath, we didn’t see the small chunks,” Edvalson said. “According to this demolition plan, they should have cut these 8 to 10 foot sections and have a big piece of equipment holding onto it while it was being cut, and then removing that section, so everything else would have been attached still.”

However, with the investigation still on-going, the city can’t explicitly say what went wrong with the demolition.

Highmark Concrete Contractors and Staton Companies were responsible for planning and putting the demolition plan into action, according to demolition plan documents.

The demolition plan was reviewed by the Washington State Department of Transportation, the city of Bonney Lake, and all parties involved in the project, said Edvalson.

Reach Ray Still at rstill@courierherald.com or 360-825-2555 ext. 5058. Follow him on Twitter @rayscottstill for more news, pictures and local events.