Victims Families Describe Anger; Hurt Over Trop Collapse

ATLANTIC CITY – There were tears. There were profanities. Four families torn apart, women left without husbands, children left fatherless, when the top five floors of the l0-floor Tropicana Casino and Resort garage collapsed as workers poured cement on the deck in October.

Now, they’re still coping with tragedy.

Michael Wittland, 53, of Pleasantville; Robert Tartaglio Jr., 42, of Galloway Township; James Bigelow, 29, of Egg Harbor Township, and Scott Pietrosante, 21, of the Milmay section of Buena Vista Township; were killed in the collapse. Twenty-one others were injured – some severely.

Wittland, Tartaglio and Bigelow family members commented at a news conference at Ironworkers Local 350 in Atlantic City four hours after the release of U.S. Department of labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration report, which cited the contractor and subcontractor along with two other companies for faulty construction plans that led to the fatal collapse.

Edward Wittland. 34, a father of five with one on the way is angry. His children will never know their grandfather who was killed in the Oct 30 garage collapse. And if the report is correct, the fatal collapse could have been – and should have been prevented.

OSHA cited subcontractor Fabi Construction Inc., general contractor Keating Building Corp., Mitchell Bar Placement, which put in steel columns and welded wire mesh improperly and Site Blauvelt Engineers for not ensuring that the reinforcing steel was properly installed Fabi was fined $98,500 of the $119,500.

Edward Wittland said it works out to about $30,000 for each life lost $30,000 a man ain’t (expletive),It’s ridiculous.”

He and other victims’ family members said that they feel Keating and Fabi thought more of saving money than the lives of the many men who work on their job sites.

“I rather see the man fall than be crushed for some dumb (expletive),” Edward Wittland said,

Wittland suffered serious injuries in the collapse. Although some people said that there were signs of problems on the job – cracks in the cement – he told the media that he never saw it coming.

Every day he suffers not only the pain of losing his father, but also the pain of a broken neck and a brain injury that left him with memory loss. Two holes in the front of his head where a halo was used to support his neck are daily reminders of the deadly collapse.

“I see bullet holes in my head. Yeah, that’s something,” he said.

At times, an attorney who stood behind the families put his hands on Edward’s shoulders to by to calm him.

Nancy Wittland wept as the questions kept coming.

“Fabi and Keating, they’re still going to work on these other jobs. I just pray to God, to any of the contractors out there, please, let safety be first,” she said.

“We just want the contractors to take the time and do the job safely,” she said.

She said she understood that OSHA is limited in their powers, that they could only fine companies just so much. The Wittlands and other families filed wrongful-death and personal-injury lawsuits against the contractor, subcontractor and several other companies involved

Robert Mongeluzzi and Paul D’ Amato, the lead counsel who represent 20 of the plaintiffs in the case, stood outside the collapse site Thursday afternoon shortly before the victims’ news conference, and told the media that inadequate structure and design caused the collapse. They said that it was clear by the OSHA report that the contractors switched to a cheaper and quicker construction plan despite warnings from workers who feared the garage ceilings did not have enough support.

“Today, we stand here before a house of cards,” Mongeluzzi told a barrage of media. Adding that Keating and Fabi did not follow proper procedure, and they did not have a proper plan in place. They did not adequately address shoring issues.

“There was an abject failure of the contractors, ” Mongeluzzi said “There was no shoring plan.”

Mongeluzzi and D Amato are asking anyone from the public, or any of the workers who know anything about the collapse to come forward with the information.

Robert Tartaglio Sr., 64, retired two weeks before the collapse killed his son, who left behind two young daughters. After 40 years on the job, he knew better than most how to do his job. He knew there were problems with the Tropicana parking garage project from the start, Tartaglio said during the news conference.

As for OSHA’s report he said, “They were the true findings. Everyone said the workmanship was shoddy. This was an accident waiting to happen.”

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