Local News

Contractor calls fatal roof collapse 'freak accident'

Posted February 19, 2010 12:09 p.m. EST
Updated February 19, 2010 5:53 p.m. EST

— A day after one of his workers died, a contractor said he has no idea what caused a roof under construction at a Sampson County church to collapse.

The crane operator had just wrapped up his work late Thursday afternoon at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, 3790 Faison Highway in Clinton, and workers on a framing crew were nailing two-by-fours onto roof trusses to stabilize the structure when it collapsed, officials said.

Thirty-two of the 49 trusses that were in place crumbled, subcontractor Clifton "Bunky" Halso Jr. said Friday.

"I don't know exactly what happened," Halso said as he surveyed the damage. "These walls are pushed out. Something happened to push these walls out. We don't know

"It's a freak accident," he said. "I've been setting trusses for 30 years and have never had anything like this happen."

The worker who was killed was operating machinery on the ground when the trusses fell onto him, authorities said. Halso said the worker, whose name has been withheld pending notification of relatives, was hired on Tuesday morning.

Two other workers, Darium Rony of Wallace and Adrian Norris Jr. of Chinquapin, were working on the rafters when the trusses gave way beneath them. They were taken to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill for treatment. Halso said they suffered broken bones and are expected to recover.

Six other construction workers were uninjured.

The trusses were designed and assembled by C&R Building Supply in Autryville and shipped to the construction site. Designer David Williams visited the site Friday and said he saw nothing wrong with the trusses.

"There are 101 things that could go wrong when setting trusses," Williams said. "We just have to leave it to the investigators."

Inspectors with the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health spent Friday combing through the rubble of the church and photographing the damage.

The state Department of Labor has a safety alert on its Web site, noting the inherent danger of installing roof trusses.

"Most of the factors that put construction workers in the hospital with serious injuries resulted from a hurry to get the job done," the alert states. "Companies were in a hurry to return the rental cranes, or proper bracing was left out to save a little time and money. The shortcuts backfired."

The Department of Labor has no records on Halso's company, Chinquapin-based A to Z Island Maintenance, meaning it hasn't been inspected since it was formed about five years ago.

Clifton Halso Inc., which is owned by Halso's father, is the general contractor on the project. That company has had no previous safety violations in its 14 years in business, according to the Department of Labor.

C&R Building Supply had seven minor workplace safety violations in 2004, but the company wasn't fined, Department of Labor records show.

The crane operator, Edwards Inc., was cited for a serious workplace safety violation in 2005 that resulted in a $1,200 fine, Department of Labor records show. The records don't include details about the infraction.

Construction on Mount Vernon Baptist's new sanctuary began last fall to coincide with the church's centennial, said Tony Rackley, chairman of the church's Board of Deacons.

"We have a lot of plans, and we're going to go forward with this. The Lord's going to see us through this,” Rackley said.