Victim killed in building collapse identified

April 15, 2009 3:19:37 PM PDT
Authorities have confirmed the identity of the construction worker killed in yesterday's massive building collapse in southeast Houston. [PHOTOS: See images from Tuesday's building collapse]
[VIEW BLDG. SCHEMATIC: See the blueprints]
[MAP: See location of accident]
[IMAGE: What the motel looked like before]

The collapse killed one worker and trapped two others inside. The victim has been identified as 24-year-old Ramiro Sigala. Now investigators are trying to find out why it happened.

Crews have been clearing debris and looking for clues to what caused the collapse. The building off the Gulf Freeway near Griggs caved in Tuesday afternoon, and those three workers weren't able to get out.

A witness told Eyewitness News there were four people on the first floor of the structure that was being renovated when it collapsed. One got out, three others did not.

Fire officials say they used "every tool in their toolbox" to make this a happy ending; nevertheless, there was one fatality.

After all the firefighters and investigators left, workers put up a fence to cordon off the scene of the deadly collapse. Right now, it's just a pile of wood and what happened there appears to be an accident.

"At this point we don't have anything to believe it was criminal in nature," said Sgt. Robert Torres of the Houston Police Department.

Firefighters got the call around 4:15pm Tuesday afternoon. Construction crews were replacing a floor joist in what used to be an old motel. Fire officials believe there wasn't enough lateral bracing, causing the wood frame to fall like a domino. Underneath the rubble were three people trapped by the debris.

Firefighters managed to extricate two men. One walked off on his own but then needed help. Another was brought out on a stretcher while another man remained trapped. As two police dogs searched for more possible victims, firefighters cut away parts of the roof, removed wood piece by piece and finally learned their mission was one of recovery, not rescue.

"They found him with a search camera, cut away debris around him and got to him and found out he was dead," said District Chief Tommy Dowdy of the Houston Fire Department.

Soon, a ladder truck was used, not for fighting fire but for removing the victim. His family rushed to the scene. According to a sub-contractor, Sigala had been on the project for about four months.

"We treat everyone like family here and it's a sad day for us," said Steve Hefner of Camden Builders Inc.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, city building inspectors and the police department have all initiated investigations.

A fire official told us he believed that Sigala was crushed by about an inch and a half of concrete that fell from the second floor. Investigators returned to the scene today. Camden Builders told us they have had no prior problems here.

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