Reports, witnesses tell tale of Bonney Lake SR 410 tragedy

There was no sound when the state Route 410 barrier fell off the overpass and onto Angeline Road below, witnesses to the tragedy on April 13 said. One moment the barrier was there, and the next, it was on the road below. Now the dust is finally settling as the first installment of police reports investigating the tragedy became available on May 1, and witness testimony in the report reveal what happened in the crucial minutes before the barrier fell.

Project contractors inspect the damage to the state Route 410 overpass during the Angeline Road closure on April 28.

There was no sound when the state Route 410 barrier fell off the overpass and onto Angeline Road below, witnesses to the tragedy on April 13 said.

One moment the barrier was there, and the next, it was on the road below.

The barrier instantly killed Bonney Lake residents Josh, Vanessa and baby Hudson Ellis.

Now the dust is finally settling as the first installment of police reports investigating the tragedy became available on May 1, and witness testimony in the report reveal what happened in the crucial minutes before the barrier fell.

With the initial investigation complete, construction on the state Route 410 overpass above Angeline Road resumed on May 4, according to a city press release.

The city and WHH Nisqually, the prime contractor responsible for widening the overpass and installing a sidewalk for pedestrians on SR 410, agreed to remove subcontractors Hamilton Construction Company, Staton Companies and American Concrete Cutting from the project.

At time of press, it is unknown whether Highmark Concrete Contractors has hired new subcontractors to help finish the project.

Before the barrier fell

According to a Staton Companies foreman Morgan Marney, the construction crew met at 7 a.m. to discuss the demolition plan for the SR 410 barrier.

The cutting of the concrete began at about 7:30 a.m. by an American Concrete Cutting employee.

Marney told police he understood the barrier would be cut horizontally where the barrier met the bridge.

According to the police report, Marney said he measured the width of the barrier to be 16 inches and planned to cut away only 11 inches of the barrier, leaving 5 inches of concrete left to connect the barrier to the bridge.

“The eleven inch depth would be accomplished in three passes with each pass at a depth between three to four inches,” the police report stated.

After the concrete was finished being cut horizontally, an excavator was going to grab the barrier wall as the concrete cutter then cut the wall vertically, separating the barrier into several 8 or 10 foot sections, weighing between 3,000 to 4,000 pounds each.

The excavator would then break off that section of the barrier, and the process would continue down the barrier.

Richard Dugan, who was operating the concrete saw, said he was about two-thirds down the length of the barrier during the second horizontal pass when he saw the bridge leaning in.

Both he and Marney said they thought the bridge was just settling on the deck when the barrier fell, according to the police report.

Dugan told police there was no indication the barrier was going to fall, and didn’t know what he could have done differently.

There is conflicting witness testimony as to whether Dugan was on his second or third horizontal cut pass.

Demolition plan confusion

Staton Companies employee Jonathan Carlton told police investigators he was confused as to why the removal of the barrier wasn’t performed in a safer manner.

Carlton was not at the site when the barrier wall fell.

According to Carlton, the barrier should have been cut vertically first, separating the barrier into 8- to 10-foot sections while still being “firmly anchored at the bottom of the bridge deck,” the police report stated.

After the vertical cuts were complete, the horizontal cuts would start separating the barrier from the bridge deck, leaving about 5 inches of concrete left connecting the barrier to the bridge.

The barrier section would then be snapped off by an excavator.

According to the BR. 410 Partial Demolition Plan, an email from Carlton to Highmark Concrete Contractors on Feb. 10, 2015, mentioned cutting the barrier wall vertically first and horizontally second.

Carlton told police if the cuts were made in a logical order, only a small section of a barrier would have fallen instead of the entire barrier, and steps could have been taken to safely cut the other sections.

Carlton commented how during two other Staton Companies projects, the barrier was sectioned properly by making the vertical cuts before the horizontal cuts.

Wrong excavator

According to witnesses, the wrong excavator for barrier removal was delivered to the job site.

Ralph Stuhr, who was hired as the operator for the excavator, told police the excavator at the job site lacked a “thumb,” which meant he couldn’t do his job that day.

Working like a human hand, an excavator thumb would pinch the barrier between the thumb and the excavator bucket. This would allow the excavator to grab a section of the barrier to break it from the bridge deck.

Without the thumb, the excavator couldn’t grip the barrier.

Carlton corroborated Stuhr’s story, saying he know an excavator without a thumb was sent to the site, and expressed confusion as to why the crew continued cutting the barrier “when they knew they didn’t have the proper excavator to remove the sections.”

Flaggers on-site

According to Carla Vandiver, the traffic control supervisor for the project, she and a co-worker were on Angeline Road when the barrier fell from the overpass.

Vandiver told police she was waiting for a radio call from foreman Marney indicating when they should stop traffic, which would have been when the vertical cuts were started on the barrier.

Moving forward on the project

Bonney Lake City Administrator Don Morrison said new demolition plans will have to be submitted to the city before any more demolition work will continue.

The new plan will come to the city and to the Washington State Department of Transportation for review.

Morrison also said there will be a new site specific safety plan, which was originally drawn up by Highmark Concrete Contractors, although the city officials stated they never saw the first one.

“This Site Specific Safety Plan was not provided to the city,” Bonney Lake City Engineer John Woodcock wrote in an email on April 16 to other city employees. “This would have been an element of the pre-demolition meeting the contractor/subs/state and city would have before we approved the scheduling of the effort.”

Morrison said work on the bridge for the moment will involve finishing laying styrofoam blocks and removing and reinstalling temporary materials that were attached to the bridge and damaged when the barrier wall fell.

According to a May 1 press release, Angeline Road will be fully closed under SR 410 if any further work on the bridge is required.

Updates on the SR 410 project and the police investigation will be made known as the next installment of police reports are made public.

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.

 

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