MARLTON The deadly collapse of a 10-story Atlantic City casino parking garage last fall was blamed Thursday on contractors and inspectors who didn’t adequately secure floors to walls, ignored warnings about cracking concrete and failed what one official called “Engineering 101.”
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited four contractors for safety violations leading to the accident, in which the top five stories of the Tropicana Casino and Resort garage collapsed Oct. 30 during a concrete pour. Four men died and 20 were injured.
“This was a death trap and an accident waiting to happen,”said Robert J. Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia attorney who represents two victims’ families, after attending a briefing on the findings.
Concrete subcontractor Fabi Construction Inc. received six citations totaling $98,500. It was faulted for failing to erect formwork capable of supporting the loads above it, a “willful” violation that OSHA said reflected intentional disregard – or indifference to -safety regulations.
That violation, punishable by a $70,000 fine, was the most serious uncovered in the probe.
Reinforcing steel designed to connect horizontally to the garage’s walls and vertical columns was never embedded, leaving the floors unable to support the tremendous weight of the floors above, according to Gary Roskoski, OSHA area director.
Workers on the project reported cracks radiating at 4S-degree angles from concrete columns in the weeks before the collapse, but no one acted on the warnings, Roskoski said.
The cracks also apparently eluded the notice of city inspectors – including one who inspected the site that morning – and those hired by general contractor Keating Building Corp.
“Connecting horizontal steel to the vertical (components) is a basic construction engineering design, very basic. It’s Engineering 101,”Roskoski said.
Roskoski said the connections were present in the lower floors of the structure and included in designs for the upper floors, but they were never made.
Also cited with “serious” violations were:
Keating, of Philadelphia, fined $7,000 for not erecting or bracing formwork.
Mitchell Bar Placement Inc. of Sewell, fined $7,000 for not properly installing steel and wire mesh connecting the 2,400-space garage’s floors with its vertical concrete columns.
Site Blauvelt Engineers of Mount Laurel, cited for failing to ensure that reinforcing steel was installed properly despite being hired by Keating as independent engineering inspectors.
The companies have 15 working days to challenge the citations.
Keating Building released a statement indicating it would appeal.
“There is nothing in OSHA’s findings or in our own investigation that point in any way to a direct and clear-cut cause of this tragedy,” the statement said. “There are no simple answers here.”
Fabi Construction issued a statement expressing sympathy for those killed and hurt in the collapse. The company said it would continue to cooperate with OSHA in the investigation.
“Fabi Construction Inc. has insisted that the demolition be done in a way that will preserve the physical evidence to ensure a thorough, fair and just resolution of the investigation.”
Company spokesman Walt Zeller would not comment when asked if the company would appeal the citation.
Workers on the garage – part of a $265 million Cuban-themed expansion dubbed “The Quarter” – have said the job was being rushed to meet a March deadline for the opening of the expansion.
Lawyers for two victims’ families, meanwhile, have blamed Keating and Fabi, saying concrete-pour forms were prematurely removed and that the walls and floors on the upper levels were not properly connected.
According to a suit filed in November by Mongeluzzi, Fabi switched to a cheaper construction method despite being told by workers that the floors didn’t have enough support.
Roskoski said there was no indication that the job was being rushed, or that there was anything wrong with the design of the structure or the concrete that was used.
Killed in the collapse were:
Scott Pietrosante, 21, a cement mason from Buena Vista Township described as an avid hunter, fisherman and outdoor sportsman who followed his father and older brother into the trades. His brother, John Pietrosante, 25, escaped injury after walking away to get a ladder minutes before the collapse.
James P. Bigelow, 29, of Egg Harbor Township, an ironworker who had just finished an apprenticeship and was the father of an 18-month-old boy.
Robert A. Tartaglio Jr., 42, of Galloway Township.
Michael M. Wittland, 53, of Pleasantville, a veteran ironworker whose son, Ed, suffered a broken neck in the collapse but survived.
“It is clear from what OSHA has said that this was a catastrophic failure that was systemic,” said Mongeluzzi. “It ran from bottom to top of the job. This was not a small minor oversight on an area someone couldn’t look at.
“We’re talking about the abject failure, the utter shocking failure to include connections between the floors and the walls,” Mongeluzzi said.