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'A life cannot be replaced': Documents detail OSHA investigations following I-4 worker deaths

5th worker tied to project killed on the job this weekend

ORLANDO, Fla. – A usually loud and busy construction site was silent Monday after an I-4 worker death Saturday caused construction on the 21-mile-long I-4 Ultimate project to be suspended. 

According to Orlando police, at approximately 6:34 p.m., officers responded to an industrial accident near Sylvia Lane and America Street.

A beam had slipped off a piece of equipment and struck two SGL construction workers, police said.

SGL said Monday that its employee, Ulises J. Corrales Ibarra was killed in the incident, which the company said it is still investigating. 

"We are currently focused on providing the necessary support to the family, our employees and all those affected by this tragedy," wrote SGL spokesperson Russ Handler in an email. 

The Florida Department of Transportation said the project remains shutdown.

Crews will return to work on Oct. 1 as supervisors will go over all the safety protocols, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

Ibarra's death marks the fifth since the $2.3 billion project began in 2015. 

After each death, SGL has released a statement saying it is investigating what happened, however it has never given answers about what those investigations have found.

So News 6 then went to Occupational Safety and Health Administration for answers. OSHA investigated each death and after submitting a Freedom of Information Act request, News 6 received hundreds of documents and pictures related to the first three deaths in the project. 

February 2016 

In the morning of Feb. 24,2016, SGL had its first death, which resulted in an OSHA fine of $12,471 and a lawsuit by the family of Marvin Franklin. 

According to the report, the 34-year-old Deltona man was run over by a reversing dump truck. 

That morning, the foreman on the job site had called out sick, according to the documents and two trainee foremen were in charge. The reports show that at 7:30 a.m., a safety inspection "noted the trucks were backing up without a 'spotter.'" So the crews got "spotters" in place until operations stopped when it started raining around 10:30 a.m., according to the OSHA investigation.

The investigation said four more dump trucks were on their way back to the site. Those dump trucks continued to dump soil at the site and, without a spotter in place, the report said, the dump truck reversed right into Franklin. 

In his written statement to OSHA investigators, one of Franklin's co-workers said: "I was waiting for the excavator to finish so I could pass around it. After I passed it I heard the screams from the excavator. I jumped into the trench and felt and heard the wind from the dump truck passing by at a very fast rate of speed."

The driver of the dump truck was not aware that he had hit Franklin, according to the report. The medical examiner's report  showed Franklin's headphones and phone were near his person, however it was never confirmed that he had the headphones in his ears as he was walking through the site. 

His family has filed a lawsuit. 

"If the employer had a traffic control program in place with areas marked, this incident would have not occurred," the OSHA investigator wrote. 

A letter was sent to employees after Franklin's death, which reach, in part, "It is evident that we need to put more efforts into changing our culture to recognize that there is only one way to work -- the safe way -- a life cannot be replaced." 

But four more deaths would follow. 

December 2016

Ten months after Franklin's death, Curtis Popkey, 59,  died while working on the I-4 Ultimate project near State Road 436 in Altamonte Springs.

OSHA finished  its investigation in May 2017 and found no violations in Popkey's death, records show.

"OSHA inspection determined that an excavator operator stopped the rotational movement of the excavator when he saw Mr. Popkey in the danger zone of the excavator. The excavator arm stopped, but the attached vibratory hammer swung from the inertia and the transport stand detached from the unit and struck Mr. Popkey," the report reads. 

According to the report, a foreman was operating an excavator while two employees were welding a pipe and Popkey was acting as the firewatch. That's when another truck with another pipe came for a delivery. That truck driver, who had the authority to do so without first receiving permission, got into an excavator with a hammer attached to the arm to unload the pipe on the truck bed. As he was moving that hammer, the report reads, Popkey was standing in the danger zone. 

"When [the driver] realized Popkey was in the danger zone, he let his hands off the controls to stop the movement of the excavator," the OSHA report read. "Due to the sudden stop, the hammer swung and the transport stand of the unit detached and flew through the air, bouncing off the bed of the trailer and striking him in the face."

The new documents also included several pictures of the bloody scene and of the piece of equipment that struck Popkey. 

"If Popkey had not been in the danger zone while the excavator was moving, then there would have not been the need for the sudden stop and the base probably would have not come disconnected from the hammer," the investigator wrote. 

OSHA did not find any violation with SGL. 

March 2018

More than a year later, the third death in the I-4 Ultimate Project came.  

Michael Tomlan, 56, was killed when he was hit by reinforced steel near the Amway Center, Florida Department of Transportation officials said.

According to the new OSHA records, Tolman was the foreman on the job and part of a four-man work crew engaged in fabricating the rebar cage for a bridge. "As the crane lifted one end of the 60.5 foot long partially completed the rebar cage, one of the stands at the opposite send that was supposed to support the rebar cage became tilted," the report read. 

Tomlan, the report read, tried to use a two-by-four to lift the cage back up, but he got pinned underneath the 15,000-pound cage. The report saidTomlan saw it falling on top of him but couldn't escape on time. 

"Unable to escape Mr. Tolman became pinned between the rebar cage and the horizontal beam of the stand. He was transported to the hospital where he later passed away. Cause of death was blunt force trauma to his torso," the OSHA investigator wrote. 

The findings were that "it was obvious the ground condition was not adequate foundation to support the weight of the rebar cage and the stands."

The OSHA investigation wrapped up in August 2018 with no violations or fines. 

February 2019

Less than a year after Tomlan's death, the fourth death occurred and it resulted in OSHA fines. 

On Feb. 4th, James Hardy Milles, 59, was killed while working along I-4 near Winter Park. 

Investigators said he was loading a pipe onto a trailer when the pipe fell on top of him.

Though News 6 has not received the full report from OSHA on Hardy's death, according to online information about OSHA's investigation.

SGL was cited for committing a "serious" violation, because workers were not kept clear of the pipe's path. 

SGL was fined $13,260.

September 2019

That brings us to Ibarra's death on Saturday, the fifth to occur during the I-4 Ultimate project

FDOT releasing this statement, saying it plans to hold its contractors responsible. 

"Florida Department of Transportation's (FDOT) vision statement says this: "As one FDOT team, we serve the people of Florida by providing a transportation network that is well planned, supports economic growth, and has the goal of being congestion and fatality free." It is our view the goal of fatality free extends to FDOT construction and maintenance projects, and to the contractors that perform the work.
 
"We would like to offer sincere sympathy and condolences to the family during this difficult time.
The FDOT expects a full accounting from the contractor as to the cause. Furthermore FDOT will require corrective measures be put in place to prevent further injuries and deaths associated with this project. This includes an after action plan for increased safety and renewed emphasis that the contractor continues enforcing a culture of safety during all aspects of the I-4 Ultimate project."

 

 


About the Author:

Nadeen Yanes

Nadeen Yanes joined News 6 as a general assignment reporter in 2016. She grew up in Leesburg and graduated from the University of Florida. Nadeen has won three Associated Press Awards for her reporting on the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the trial of the Pulse gunman's wife and the capture of an accused cop killer, Markeith Loyd.

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