3 killed, 1 hurt in scaffolding accident

RALEIGH, N.C. –Three workers fell to their deaths and one survived, apparently from the good luck of crashing into a portable toilet, in a shocking accident Monday morning in downtown Raleigh.

The scaffolding collapsed at the construction of the Charter Square project on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, only a block from Memorial Auditorium. The building is an 11-story, $54 million project being built by Choate Construction.

The incident happened at approximately 10:58 a.m., and the Raleigh Fire Department was on scene by 11 a.m., officials said.

Worker Ricky Lee saw the smashed scaffolding on the ground just after it happened.

“I came out and saw the scaffold on them, but they never did stand a chance,” Lee said.

But one worker did survive the fall, from about five stories up.

“I saw one that lived,” Lee said. “I believe the Porta John broke his fall. He landed on top of it. I think that’s what happened to him.”

“But other than that. …” and Lee just shook his head.

Yellow police tape could be seen surrounding the area of Lenoir and Fayetteville Streets and dozens of emergency personnel responded to the scene.

Authorities pushed construction workers back a few blocks from the building and many were visibly shaken.

A shattered window with a section of scaffolding sticking out of it, approximately five or six floors up from ground level, could be seen from the street. Scaffolding also fell in a nearby parking lot and the sidewalk surrounding the building.

Emergency officials confirmed that the scaffolding on the sidewalk and in the nearby parking lot is the same scaffolding involved in the incident.

Authorities and eyewitnesses are not sure what happened to cause the scaffolding to collapse.

“We have no preliminary information on where [the victims] were or what they were doing…it’s entirely too early to say exactly what happened,” said Wake County EMS district chief Jeff.

Officials said that aside from the three fatalities, one person was seriously injured and transported to WakeMed in serious condition, but no one on the ground or in other parts of the building were injured.

Construction worker Peter Thuston was working inside the building when the scaffolding collapsed.

“I don’t know exactly what happened. I was working just inside the door where the scaffolding fell… heard a loud boom and a huge dust cloud kicked up,” he said. “I immediately ran outside…tried to help three of the guys, but they had no pulse [and] there was nothing we could do [for them].”

The man seriously injured had his fall broken by a Porta John on the sidewalk.

“Me and two other gentlemen were helping the one guy we found upside down in the Porta John and we got a pulse off him,” Thuston said. I’m hoping he’s OK. He had a pulse when the paramedics got here, so hopefully he’s OK.”

Although officials said it’s too early to know what happened, they have confirmed that the collapse is being looked at as an accident and not a crime.

“It does not appear that that is anything other than a terrible accident,” said Maj. Clem Perry of the Raleigh Police Department.

Thuston told WNCN that what happened Monday is just a risk associated with the job.

“[These types of jobs] can be very dangerous and stuff can get overlooked. All it takes is one little thing and something like this can happen, so even if they do follow all the safety protocols, accidents happen,” he said.

The victims have not been publicly identified and it’s not clear if authorities know their identities yet.

“Right now one of our biggest priorities is to make positive identification [of the victims] and be extremely respectful of the families and get the information out [to them] quickly,” Perry said.

The City of Raleigh Fire Department, Raleigh police, Wake County Emergency Medical Services, City-County Bureau of Identification, OSHA, and North Carolina Department of Labor are all currently on scene.

Choate Construction, in a statement, said:

“At approximately 11 a.m. this morning, a serious incident involving a mast climber scaffold occurred on the Charter Square project in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. At this time, details as to the cause of the accident are not known.

We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries suffered during this incident. Our first and primary concern is for these personnel and their families. We request your thoughts and prayers at this time.

A full investigation as to the cause of the accident has begun. We will provide updates as they become available.”

A number of subcontractors are involved with the Charter Square project, but Choate is the head contractor. They were cited for violations just once in North Carolina, in 2014, for a flammable and combustible liquids violation at 5440 Wade Park Blvd. in Raleigh.

They were reprimanded for a violation of the OSHA safety code that states “at least one portable fire extinguisher having a rating of not less than 20-B units shall be located not less than 25 feet, nor more than 75 feet, from any flammable liquid storage area located outside.”

The 500 block of Fayetteville Street has been a hub of activity as downtown Raleigh continues to grow.

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