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Construction Accident Along I-40 Takes Life Of Chapel Hill Lawyer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Steve Whitesell died Thursday after a crane on Interstate 40/85 dropped a pipe onto his car. His friends and family remembered Whitesell as a loving person, not just to his family but his community as well.

"He told me he was on his way home and expected in around 5:15 p.m.," said Marisa D'Silva-Whitesell, Whitesell's widow.

D'Silva-Whitesell said that was the last thing her husband told her Thursday night on his way home from a seminar in Winston-Salem. Thirty minutes later, a construction crane dropped a huge pipe on Whitesell's car.

The accident dealt a heavy blow to the Triangle. Whitesell was a successful lawyer. He was considered to be an expert on affordable housing in downtown Durham.

"Steve championed those causes that benefited everyone," law partner Jonathon Charleston said.

Whitesell was also active in his church, serving on several committees, acting as the head of the pastoral council.

"I met Steve my first weekend here. He and his wife invited me to their daughter's baptism party and they didn't even know who I was," friend Becky Egan said.

D'Silva-Whitesell said, despite such a busy life, family always came first for her husband. He even stayed home in the mornings to be with his young children.

"He did everything he could to make the world a better place, and he was doing a good job," she said.

The state Department of Transportation and Occupational Safety and Health Administration are looking into the accident. DOT officials said inspectors were actually at the scene when the crane dropped the pipe. They are waiting for an official report from them to determine what caused the accident.

OSHA is taking a look to see if there were any safety violations. The DOT also said all national construction standards were in place when the accident happened.

The family has a memorial service planned for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday at the Newman Catholic Center in Chapel Hill. The funeral is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Whitesell leaves behind his wife, a 4-year-old-son, Blaise, and a 1-year-old daughter, Romey. D'Silva-Whitesell is also expecting a baby in August. Whitesell turned 38 last weekend.