South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Fort Lauderdale mayor responds to fatal crane incident

- By Shira Moolten Staff writer Angie DiMichele contribute­d to this report.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis responded Saturday to the dramatic crane incident that killed a worker, injured three others and damaged a bridge in the city’s downtown two days before, describing it as “unusual” but adding that the city could potentiall­y do more to oversee constructi­on projects.

A large, blue piece of steel from a tower crane at the Gables Riverwalk constructi­on site at 333 N. New River Drive E. had smashed into two cars on the Southeast Third Avenue drawbridge about 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, landing on top of a van and crushing the passenger side of the vehicle. The front of a Tesla was also severely damaged.

“We all realize this was a terrible accident and it’s clear that the city perhaps needs to be more hands-on in terms of ensuring the best practices are observed in constructi­ng these buildings,” Trantalis told the South Florida Sun Sentinel Saturday afternoon. “At our next commission meeting we will discuss this. But keep in mind there have been dozens of buildings built in the city over last 20 years and we’ve never had an accident like this.”

The accident killed 27-year-old Jorge De La Torre, a traveling constructi­on worker from Atlanta with a young son, according to his family. Officials, including Trantalis, said it was lucky that more people were not injured or killed considerin­g that the crash happened during rush hour in the congested downtown area.

In the days since, some residents pointed to the accident as the consequenc­e of over-developmen­t and lack of oversight. One neighborin­g resident had complained about safety issues at the same constructi­on site to both OSHA and the city. The same constructi­on company he complained about had received multiple OSHA violations last year for failing to protect against falls.

Trantalis acknowledg­ed that nearby residents had complained about the project but said that their complaints largely had to do with the building blocking their views, not safety.

“This is an urban setting, and these kinds of situations will continue to evolve as buildings are built next to one another,” he said. “But there was never a concern about safety or risk during these public meetings and for good reason, because we don’t have a history of that.”

Gary Grayson, the resident who had complained to OSHA, said he had also

complained to the city commission about the constructi­on for several years. According to minutes from a February 2021 commission meeting, he gave a video presentati­on “illustrati­ng his opposition to the Project due to the small lot size, setbacks and wind studies,” with which other residents had voiced agreement. In a June 2023 presentati­on, he spoke about code enforcemen­t violations and mentioned a lack of netting to protect people from falling objects.

Responding to critics who

cited over-developmen­t as a cause, Trantalis said he had “anticipate­d voices against developmen­t would become sharpened as a result of this incident.”

“However, we are continuing to follow the path of the downtown master plan,” he said. “These buildings are consistent with what the community had agreed to many years ago. The commission is just following those guidelines, and nothing has changed.”

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Chief Stephen Gollan told reporters Thursday

that the workers were in the process of “stepping” the crane, where sections are added to the tower crane to elevate it as the under-constructi­on building grows taller. A platform holding equipment failed, he said, not the crane itself. De La Torre’s brother, Brandon, said that a cable had snapped, causing the piece to fall.

While the city wants to get to the bottom of what caused the accident, Trantalis said he did not want to “pre-judge” what happened or how it could have been prevented.

“We like to think it was an unusual situation,” he said. “Our hearts go out to the family members of the deceased, their friends, their coworkers. We want to continue to be able to build our city in a safe and proportion­ate way, and we’re prepared to listen to experts on next best steps as the constructi­on process continues.”

Commission­er Warren Sturman, who represents the district where the accident took place, did not return voicemails Friday or Saturday.

Immediatel­y after the incident, two people were hospitaliz­ed, one with only minor injuries. A third person who was injured refused to be taken to the hospital. No additional informatio­n was available Saturday.

Fort Lauderdale Police identified four people “directly involved” in the accident as Gemmalyn Castillo, 37; Carol Zinser, 69; Gregory Garcia, 43; and Mark Cerezin, 56, the driver whose Tesla was struck by the chunk of crane as he was driving across the bridge. Zinser did not return a voicemail Saturday. Castillo and Garcia could not be reached.

 ?? CARLINE JEAN/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL ?? A constructi­on worker was killed and three people were injured after a portion of a crane dropped onto the Southeast Third Avenue bridge over the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale on Thursday.
CARLINE JEAN/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL A constructi­on worker was killed and three people were injured after a portion of a crane dropped onto the Southeast Third Avenue bridge over the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale on Thursday.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States