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Workers watched helplessly as bridge collapsed on friends

By
LESLIE GRIFFIN

CROWN POINT, Ind. -- Construction workers who survived the worst highway construction accident in Indiana history described Thursday how they watched helplessly as co-workers slid into an tumble of wreckage and wet cement.

Thirteen men died April 15 when three huge spans of the elevated Cline Avenue bridge extension highway project in East Chicago, Ind., gave way.

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'It was like an earthquake,' Harold Warren, who lost his right foot and part of his left leg, said during the second night of an inquest called by Lake County Coroner Albert Willardo.

'We felt three good solid shakes going lengthwise. I saw the area being poured caving in and sliding down. I saw a guy in a yellow raincoat who just kind of slid down.

'I ran toward the area that was caving in. My first thought was that my foreman was down there. I saw there wasn't anything I could do,' Warren, 29, a Hobart, Ind. carpenter, said. He said he fell moments later when a second span collapsed.

Warren was among 29 witnesses subpoenaed to testify at the inquest. Witnesses have charged there were numerous faults in the construction of the $13.5 million bridge extension, part of a $200 million state highway project.

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After testimony ended Thursday night, Willardo said the investigation would continue.

The inquest will continue. We are now moving into an area that will require serious legal consultation,' Willardo said. 'We're at the foundation stage and will build up until we present a case to other people to see if they want to pursue it.'

He said one question he needs to investigate is whether the coroner has the power to cite a witness for perjury.

'We have statements that are exactly opposite,' he said. 'I anticipate a lot more testimony, perhaps two or three months down the road.'

He especially wants to question a witness from the Indiana Highway Commission who can provide better information about highway construction bids.

'To me it looked like the world came to an end,' said James Brannock, a carpenter for Superior Construction Co. I was inside a tunnel of beams. Still today it haunts me, seeing my buddies and friends of many years killed,' he said. 'It happened so fast you can't believe it.'

Other witnesses testified about construction faults, including cracks in cement foundations used to anchor scaffolding, questioned whether the ground could have supported the weight of the bridge, whether state specifications were followed and whether bolts were used to connect beams in the shoring.

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James Brannock said he had noticed the scaffolding holding up the bridge was second-hand.

'How I knew it was used was the paint came off in my hands. You could see the bare metal,' Brannock said. 'Pieces of it were welded together. They were full of holes. We bought new scaffolding. They sent us used scaffolding painted over.'

Anthes Industries of Ontario, Canada, was the company which provided the framework.

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