A Fallen Worker Had Proudly Joined The Family Trade

He came from a long line of construction workers, so it was no surprise that Michael J. Simermeyer was drawn into the family trade.

Aaron Houston for The New York Times
A burly 30-year-old with a reddish brown beard, a talent for working with his hands and a dry, easy sense of humor, Mr. Simermeyer had been unemployed for some months last fall when he joined a construction contracting company, J & E Industries, run by his father’s uncle, Michael Strehle.

He started at the site where soaring towers are replacing the ruined World Trade Center, but then switched to another high-profile dig – the extension of the No. 7 subway line into the Far West Side of Manhattan. His 51-year-old father, also named Michael, worked at the site, too, on a daytime shift. A second cousin was the job foreman.

The younger Michael was there on Tuesday in the fading light of a crisp spring evening installing a steel reinforcing bar used to strengthen concrete when a 170-foot crane toppled, mortally striking him and breaking another worker’s leg. His older sister, Lauren Simermeyer, got a phone call from her overwrought father at Bellevue Hospital Center telling her, in her recollection, that there had been “a freak accident – a crane collapsed – and Mikey happened to be the guy down there, the only guy who was killed.”

“It was obviously very sudden and shocking and devastating for us,” Ms. Simermeyer said.

Michael Simermeyer, whose nickname was Vader because of his resemblance to the beefy professional wrestler, spent the years after graduating from Burlington High School in New Jersey working as a cellphone tower installer for Lucent Technologies and its successor, Alcatel-Lucent, specializing in the intricate wiring the towers require. He was laid off last year, Ms. Simermeyer said.

But installing cellphone equipment did not quite have the mystique and camaraderie of physical outdoor construction work, and he was delighted last year when he joined Local 731 of the United Steel Workers of America and landed jobs that sometimes had him toiling 60 hours a week, his friends said. For one thing, he had loans to pay off for classes he took at electrical trade schools.

“He wanted to settle into his jobs, make enough money to someday buy a house and just enjoy life,” said a close friend, Nick Mandarakas, who described Michael as very capable when it came to technical work like wiring.

Indeed, Ms. Simermeyer, a 31-year-old veterinarian and breeder of corgis in Pedricktown, N.J., said that though she and their younger sister, Amanda, went to college, Michael preferred to work with his hands. More than once, his family saw him in the backyard taking apart old TVs and VCRs, then putting them back together.

“He was smarter than me,” Lauren Simermeyer said. “He always liked working with things. If you asked him what his favorite class was in high school, he’d probably say gym. He’d much rather be doing things.”

Mr. Simermeyer was born in Staten Island, where his father – the son, nephew and grandson of construction workers with ancestral roots in Germany and Austria -grew up. By the time the younger Michael was in high school, he was 6 feet 2.

“He was a big guy but a complete teddy bear,” Lauren Simermeyer said. “If you needed a hug, he was the guy.”

Often dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, Mr. Simermeyer, who never married, enjoyed being with friends in the bars of Burlington, near Philadelphia, where his parents raised him and where he lived until recently in their bulky, white Victorian. After his parents moved to Pawling, N.Y., several years ago and his younger sister left for California a few months ago, he found an apartment with roommates in Lawrenceville, near Princeton.

He liked to watch DVDs and play video games like Madden NFL, but he was also a generous jack-of-all-trades; friends and neighbors remembered times he fixed an air-conditioner or a leaky pipe, or shoveled a driveway. “He was a good Samaritan, a hard worker, reliable, a handyman,” said Tim Kugler, 29, who had known Mr. Simermeyer since high school.

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