Local News

3 dead, 1 injured in downtown Raleigh construction accident

Posted March 23, 2015 11:41 a.m. EDT
Updated March 24, 2015 12:41 p.m. EDT

— Three people were killed and a fourth seriously injured late Monday morning when scaffolding collapsed at a high-rise building under construction in downtown Raleigh.

Mike Hampton, chief operating officer of the project's general contractor, Atlanta-based Choate Construction, said the workers were in the process of removing and lowering a mast climber on the 11-story Charter Square building, at 501 Fayetteville St., when something went wrong shortly before 11 a.m.

Those killed have been identified as Jose Erasmo Hernandez, 41, of Durham; Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez, 33, of Clinton; and Anderson Almeida, 33, of Durham. Elmer Guevara, 53, was taken to WakeMed to be treated for serious injuries.

"Definitely, he was my big brother, my best friend," said Almeida's brother, Wes. "There was never a moment in my life, no matter how bad things were, that he didn't make me smile. His son Ryan, 3-years-old, was the biggest happiness of his life. He was the best brother anybody could've asked for, with the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met."

It was still unclear Monday night if all four workers were on the scaffold and if they were tethered to the building or the scaffold.

A man who called 911 reported several men falling more than 200 feet to the ground, according to a recording released Monday afternoon.

Worker Leroy Kelly was in a parking lot below the scaffolding when he heard it snap and then saw pieces fall onto the ground.

"I ran, and it fell like 2 feet away from me," Kelly, shaken, said. "It could've been me. I was literally right under there."

Others reported hearing what sounded like an explosion and then seeing the scaffolding – operated by Associated Scaffolding in Raleigh – collapse and crash into the building's south side between the fifth and sixth floors.

Drivers at a nearby stoplight said they looked up and saw workers tumbling to the ground.

Another worker said he and a colleague were working on the fifth floor of the building and heard the mast climber shaking and knew something was wrong. The coworker reached out to grab one of the workers on the scaffold, and was left with a scratch on his arm.

There was shock and disbelief at the construction site, where dozens of construction workers gathered immediately after to console one another.

"(It) kind of gives you a reality check about being on the job site, how dangerous it could be," said Deantay Lee, a construction worker from Roxboro.

Lee was inside the building when the accident happened.

"When we came out, we saw the scaffolding had failed," he said. "We saw a couple guys that had got caught up in it. That's an image I won't forget."

Witnesses said they pulled Guevara from a portable toilet.

"He was upside down," said Peter Thuston, who was also inside installing security equipment. "I don’t know if he was in it or he fell through it or what the case was, but he did have a full harness and lanyard on, so I’m assuming that he was on the scaffold and fell through."

A spokesman with the North Carolina Department of Labor said investigators with the Occupational Safety and Health Division were at the scene. Police investigators were also looking into what happened.

Charter Square said in a statement that work has been suspended while investigators work to identify what happened.

"We offer our condolences to the victims and their families affected by the construction accident today," Charter Square CEO Andy Andrews said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time."

Work had been underway for months on Charter Square, a $54 million mixed-use development of residential, office and retail space. It sits across from Marriott City Centre and one block from the Raleigh Convention Center.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane also offered a statement of condolence on behalf of the Raleigh City Council.

"I was incredibly saddened to learn of the construction accident that occurred this morning at the Charter Square construction site," McFarlane said. "I would like to offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the workers who tragically lost their lives. Please keep the workers and their families in your thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time."