Typical Monday turns tragic for scaffolding victims' family, friends
Posted March 24, 2015 5:29 p.m. EDT
Updated March 24, 2015 10:25 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — In an instant, a Monday morning went from typical to tragic for those who know four men involved in a scaffolding collapse at a downtown Raleigh construction site.
Police say Jose Erasmo Hernandez, 41, of Durham; Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez, 33, of Clinton; and Anderson Almeida, 33, died – and Elmer Guevara, 53, was seriously injured – just before 11 a.m. when the mast climber scaffold fell from the south-facing side of the Charter Square building on Fayetteville Street.
A 911 caller reported that he thought the scaffold and people on it dropped more than 200 feet.
Three hours earlier, Ramon Marquez had eaten breakfast with Hernandez at McDonald's before the two went to work at the nearby construction site.
Marquez was nearby when the accident happened
"One guy started running and said, 'Everybody needs to stop whatever they're doing because we had an accident, and we need you guys out on the sidewalks.' That's when I saw him lying on the floor," Marquez said. "I just couldn't believe it."
Marquez says his friend of nine years – also his roommate – was lifeless on the ground.
"I was like 10 feet away. I was trying to get close, and they didn't let me get close to him," he said.
Hernandez – described as a quiet and friendly man – had been working to make a better life for his wife and two little girls – 8 years old and 2 months old – living in Honduras.
"He was planning to go back to Honduras this year," Marquez said. "That's why he was working overtime, a lot of overtime, because he just wanted to go back with his family."
Almeida was also working to provide for his wife and 3-year-old son, Ryan, who was the center of his universe.
"His son was the biggest happiness of his life," Almeida's brother, Wesley Almeida, said.
Originally from Brazil, Almeida had been in the United States for 11 years.
Wesley Almeida, who described his older brother as his best friend, heard him leave for work Monday morning – just like every any other workday.
The family was out driving and heard about the accident on the radio but didn't think anything of it – not until police later arrived at their door to deliver the bad news.
"There was never a moment in my life, no matter how bad things were, that he didn't make me smile," Wesley Almeida said. "He was the best brother anybody could have asked for, with the biggest heart."
Olvia Lopez was at the gym when her brother called her to let her know about the accident. She called her husband, Lopez-Ramirez, to be sure he was OK, but he didn't answer.
"Then, I called my neighbor, because he worked with him, and (my neighbor) told me an ambulance took him," Lopez said. "He didn't want to tell me the truth."
The two met in Clinton 11 years ago and married six years ago. Originally from Mexico, Lopez-Ramirez had three children – ages 11, 5 and 3.
"He was a very nice person. If somebody told him something bad, he didn't say nothing," Lopez said. "He just stayed quiet. He always tried to help people he loved."
Lopez's last memory of her husband was being in bed Monday morning before he left for work.
"He gave me a kiss and told me, 'I love you,'" she said. "He was my life. He was my everything."
She said her husband had expressed concern to her about two weeks ago about not feeling safe at his job.
"He doesn't feel safe either, but he doesn't have a choice," Lopez said. "He doesn't have a place to go to work. He got to be there, but he don't feel safe in there."
Guevara, who survived the fall – apparently by landing on a portable toilet – was listed in fair condition at WakeMed in Raleigh. His family has asked for privacy but says he suffered a head injury and some broken bones.
"Mr. Guevara suffered significant injuries but miraculously survived a fall of approximately ten stories," his family said in a statement. "The family thanks and congratulates all of the Raleigh, Wake County and other emergency response team members for their help at the scene of the collapsed scaffolding, and to the doctors and medical professionals providing his on-going care. The family hopes a complete and thorough investigation will determine the cause of this tragedy and, hopefully, contribute to a safer workplace in the future."
Meanwhile, Shaw University will host a public prayer service for the victims at noon Friday at Thomas J. Boyd Chapel on campus.