Tragedy - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Tragedy

Editor's Note: This story was part of a News 11 Special Report: From Tragedy to Triumph: the Veteran's Glass City Skyway.

Whenever necessity and ambition combine in such a profound way, there's always risk.  In the first few years of the construction of the Veterans' Glass City Skyway, everyone involved in the project was rightfully proud of the project's safety record. Despite of millions of man hours of construction time, there were no major accidents and very few minor ones.

It was a remarkable accomplishment, but on a cold winter's day in February of 2004, all of that would come to a crashing end.  "We do want to confirm that there has been an accident on the I-280 Maumee River Crossing," said former Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Joe Rutherford on the day of the incident.

At 2:22 in the afternoon of President's Day, February 16th, something went terribly wrong.  A massive 2-million pound crane.  A truss, as it's called, toppled off its concrete piers and collapsed.  "I got right here past the Craig Bridge, I looked up and all I see is a cloud of dust," said Bill Burton, a witness.  "I saw the whole thing, like aluminum foil, the whole thing just fell.  You can see guys and stuff and it's scary."

Not only scary, but deadly.  In the immediate chaos that followed, it was clear to the workers that in the tangle of twisted steel and machinery, lay the bodies of co-workers, injured and dying.  "We can confirm at this time that there have been eight injuries, there have been three fatalities," said Rutherford on that cold February day.

Throughout the afternoon, the news coverage was intense, the scene somber and stunning.  Hundreds of people, families of workers, and the curious gathered at the site to watch in disbelief as emergency crews and iron workers worked side by side to carry out the injured and the dead.

In the hours that followed, it was determined that the tragedy happened as the giant truss was being repositioned on its concrete piers.  "The truss was being moved, what we call launched, being moved forward to the next pier when the incident occurred," said Rutherford.

It was now up to safety experts, project managers and workers to determine what went wrong, and how to make sure it never happened again. The Skyway project was essentially stalled at this point.  "At this time, we just don't know what the impact to the construction is going to be," said Rutherford.

It was a stunning blow to the community, the workers and their families.  The grim news got worse when a fourth ironworker would die later at the hospital.  It was the worst industrial accident in the city's modern history.  Workers who were injured would not recover quickly, left to live with the scars and memories.

As was the entire city of Toledo which had watched with pride as this new and inspiring landmark rose above the skyline, as a promise of good things to come.  Now much of it lay in ruins -- a surreal and ugly bruise on the city's great hope for tomorrow.  "I hope the community comes involved with this to know these guys put their live son the line today," said Ed Wahl.  "It's a sad day, it's a sad day for the iron workers as well."

Eventually, as the months and years moved forward, and work on the bridge finally resumed, it was decided that those who died should be remembered in a special way, in a special place.  At a site near the foot of the bridge along the east Toledo riverfront, a public sculpture will be built so that those names Robert Lipinski, Mike Moreau, Mike Phillips, Arden Clark will not forgotten, but will become a permanent part of the Skyway's legacy.

Sadly, a fifth name had to be added.  Andy Burris was a carpenter who died just as the work was nearly finished when scaffolding gave way and sent him to his death 80 feet below.

As generations to come drive over the Skyway's impressive span, or behold the magic of its lights, we need to remember that this bridge was more than just a mere product of money and engineering, more than a marvel of planning and design.  And that the long road that brought us here, is made of much more than concrete and steel.

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