Four killed in crane collapse

July 19, 2008 9:11:48 AM PDT
Only one worker remains in the hospital after Friday's crane collapse which killed four people and injured seven. Lyondell says the accident did not affect plant operations, but there are grief counselors on site.

IMAGES: See photos from Friday's deadly crane collapse

It happened around 1:30pm Friday at the plant on Lawndale at Allen Genoa. The 30-story-tall crane, capable of lifting 1 million pounds, fell over at a LyondellBasell refinery in southeast Houston, said Jim Roecker, the company's vice president for refining.

The massive, deep red crane, owned by Deep South Crane & Rigging lay on top of a smaller, bright yellow crane on the grounds of the refinery. Ambulances and fire trucks were lined up outside.

Officials from LyondellBasell tell us that four people, all contractors, were killed in the collapse. We've learned the names of two of those killed. The International Union of Operating Engineers tells us Marion Odom, 41, and John Henry, 34, lost their lives in the accident. Saturday we learned that Daniel "DJ" Lee Johnson, 30, of Dayton and Rocky Dale Strength, 30, of Santa Fe, TX were the other two workers killed. Seven others were injured.

Two of the workers who were injured were taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital by Life Flight. Micheal Gabriel, 22, of Spring, was one of those injured in Friday's accident. He was eating lunch in the tent on which the crane fell. He told reporters as he left a hospital Friday night that he was lifted off the ground by the crane's impact.

Gabriel, a contract worker, said he didn't see the crane fall. "I was in shock. I was in crying. It was bad."

We also know at least one other worker was taken by ambulance to Ben Taub Hospital, but officials there are not releasing any details at this hour about the condition of that employee.

The accident happened as the workers were about to begin a turnaround project, which is a period of off-line maintenance for the units.

"It sounded like a building fell," said Stacey Davis, who was working about a half block away from where the crane collapsed. "I looked back. I was on my way to evacuate the plant and looked back and I saw the arm coming down. After that, I saw a lot of black smoke. I stopped in my tracks."

LyondellBasell officials say all of their employees have been accounted for.

"We are working with OSHA to begin an investigation into this incident," said Roecker. "We're obviously sadded by this incident and you can be assured we are going to do a full investigation to understand exactly what happened to cause this tragic event."

"It's real difficult. You're tight with these guys. You work around them every day. They trust you. You trust them. It's difficult to see this," said worker Mike Loesch. "They were competent guys. They knew what they were doing."

LyondellBasell officials tell us that after making sure everyone was accounted for, employees and contract workers were allowed to leave.

"Our prayers will be going out to the families of these employees that suffered the loss in this very tragic incident that we continue to try to understand," said Roecker.

The crane that collapsed Friday was a 2,500 ton capacity VersaCrane, which takes 2 to 3 weeks to set up. It was test lifted Thursday.

In the city of Houston, there is no crane inspection. It's up to the company to make sure it's set up correctly. We checked the OSHA database and found no accidents in Deep South Crane and Rigging's past.

Texas is one of 35 states that do not require crane operators to be licensed. Earlier this year in Dallas, city officials found that eight of 23 cranes being used across the city had uncertified operators at the controls.

Near the scene of the collapse, Mattie Graham stood with her husband, Deep South worker Horace Graham.

"I'm thinking about their families. He could have been there today," she said, gesturing to her husband.

The refinery has about 3,000 LyondellBasell workers and 1,500 contract workers, Roecker said. He said all personnel at the plant were accounted for, and the plant was operating as usual

Crane safety has been getting extra scrutiny in recent months because of an alarming number of crane-related deaths in places such as New York, Miami and Las Vegas.

In New York City, two crane accidents since March have killed nine people -- a greater number than the total deaths from cranes over the previous decade.

An Associated Press analysis in June found that cities and states have wildly varying rules governing construction cranes, and some have no regulations at all, choosing instead to rely on federal guidelines dating back nearly 40 years that some experts say haven't kept up with technological advances.

Cameras are mounted around the plant and Roecker said the company hopes that video from those cameras will help it figure out what happened.

Statement from Deep South Crane and Rigging

"We have experienced a significant accident involving Deep South Crane employees and equipment at the Lyondell-Citgo facility in Pasadena, Texas. We have few details at this time.

Our primary concern now is the identification of injured employees and the notification of families. We are taking every measure to ensure that the injured employees receive the best possible medical attention. Our thoughts and prayers are with our employees and their loved ones.

At this point, we have few details on what actually happened and we are trying to gather information. We will use this information to conduct an investigation to determine the root cause, correct it and ensure that this type of tragedy does not occur again. We will cooperate fully with all investigations that may arise from this tragic incident.

We will provide information as we gather and verify it. In the meantime, we ask for you prayers and patience in this difficult time."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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