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‘Serious’ and ‘willful’ safety violations led to deadly Seattle crane collapse

SEATTLE — A state investigation has concluded that “serious” and “willful” safety violations, combined with sudden gusts of wind, led to the collapse of a crane across Seattle’s Mercer Street in April, killing four people. A criminal probe is also under way, Q13 News has confirmed.

Three of five companies at the center of the probe have been cited by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, the agency announced Thursday.

“When we investigate, our goal is to learn what happened, find the root cause, and let everyone know the action that should be taken to prevent it from ever happening again,” said Joel Sacks, director of the agency.

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The most serious violation was levied against Morrow Equipment Company out of Eugene, Oregon. Morrow supplied the 278-foot tower crane used at the site and provided a technician trained to properly assemble and disassemble the cranes. However, according to L&I, the technician failed to follow disassembly recommendations from the manufacturer.

Morrow received one “willful” violation related to the collapse, meaning the state believes the company acted with intentional disregard or indifference for safety. The fine for that violation is $70,000.

Q13 News has confirmed that an SPD homicide detective will review the findings of the L&I probe and determine whether to forward a criminal case to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office for consideration.

Mark Prentice, communications director for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, said they are monitoring developments closely.

“We have been following very closely given the tragedy that unfolded and its impact on the community and the families," he said. "We are currently reviewing the findings of the state’s investigation to determine our next steps.”

How the crane collapsed

According to investigators, iron workers with Northwest Tower Crane Service, acting at the direction of and with Morrow’s technician, failed to properly disassemble the crane, leaving it prone to sudden wind gusts.

The workers, both of whom died in the collapse, had removed the pins that helped to hold all sections of the tower crane together. Simultaneously, two gusts of wind – in excess of 45 mph – blew through the site, causing the crane to move suddenly and fall onto the street below.

Had disassembly been done properly and in line with manufacturer recommendations, the pins would have been removed section-by-section, and only once an assist crane had come in to secure each section first. Starting at the top, sections would have been lifted to the ground before safety pins were removed for the next section.

Other culpability

State investigators also levied three serious violations - totaling $25,200 - against GLY Construction, the general contractor at the site, including allegations that they did not ensure disassembly of the crane was supervised by a qualified person, and that the company did not ensure site personnel were aware of the hazards of not following manufacturer recommendations.

Northwest Tower Crane Service, which employed the iron workers, was cited with three serious safety violations, including not following manufacturer procedures and failing to ensure there were procedures in place to prevent the unintended movement or collapse of the crane. They face $12,000 in fines.

Two other companies eyed in the investigation, crane operators Omega Morgan and Seaburg Construction, were found to have no culpability in the collapse and followed all safety recommendations, investigators determined.

The deadly accident has changed crane safety protocols nationwide. Industry leaders sent memos to crane companies around the country after the collapse, urging them not to skirt proper procedure when assembling and disassembling cranes.

The victims

The four people who died included two iron workers - 31-year-old Andrew Yoder and 33-year-old Travis Corbet - who were on the crane when it collapsed. Corbet was a residnet of Oregon. Yoder, his wife and two young children lived in Washington. Yoder's family members telling Q13 News on Thursday that it was still too painful to speak in public. Earlier in the year Yoder's wife Andrea in a statement said she was grateful for the 12 years she had with her husband. She said the grief was so bad it's hard to breathe. 

Sarah Wong, 19, a student at Seattle Pacific University, was in a car and died when the crane crashed down onto Mercer Street. The crane was being used at a construction site for a new Google office in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Wong's parents have hired an attorney based in Renton.

The fourth victim, 71-year-old Alan Justad, was also in a car when the crane collapsed. Justad was a retired, long-time employee of the city of Seattle. 

David Beninger of the Luvera Firm is representing Alan's 3 daughters. He says despite the findings released by the state investigators they still have a lot of questions.

"We still have a lot of questions why these various folks thought that it was ok to cut corners on safety and put people at risk," Beninger said.

Beninger says moving forward he believes the state should require every company to notify them when they are tearing down a tower crane so state inspectors can oversee the process.

 Five more people were injured, including a 25-year-old mother and her 4-month-old baby, and a 28-year-old man who spent days in the hospital. 

L&I investigators said they spoke with family members about their findings Wednesday and early Thursday morning.

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