COPY-Deadly Cincinnati overpass collapse closes SB I-75 indefinitely - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

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COPY-Deadly Cincinnati overpass collapse closes SB I-75 indefinitely

A construction worker died and a truck driver was hurt when a section of the old northbound Hopple Street exit overpass collapsed during construction onto southbound I-75 late Monday.

"A very tragic scene," said Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. "It appears the workers, while they were on the deck doing the demolition of the bridge, something happened. We are not sure and that is what the investigation will tell us in the coming hours."

Thousands of pounds of concrete crashed onto the southbound side of the highway, closing it indefinitely and creating what police describe as a traffic nightmare.

"This will be a mess," Blackwell said. "It's not could or should. It will be."

Tuesday's morning rush hour passed by without any major problems. Motorists are advised to avoid the area until further notice.

Commercial vehicle traffic must detour onto either I-275 or I-71. Other drivers can detour onto westbound I-74.

The "catastrophic pancake collapse" occurred just before 10:30 p.m. as state work crews were preparing to demolish the overpass as part of a widening project of the highway, officials said.

The rubble collapsed onto the worker. He was pronounced dead at the scene. His name has not been released.

A semi tractor-trailer traveling on the highway struck the fallen section of the bridge, police officials said. 

The driver suffered non-life threatening injuries and was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center. His name also has not been released.

"I can tell you that big rig driver - the semi driver - is very lucky," Blackwell said. "In a matter of seconds his fate would have probably been different."

It's not clear when the highway will reopen, said Brian Cunningham, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the construction project.

“As the investigation progresses, we may get a better idea when the roadway will be opened,” he said. “It's very preliminary and there are folks over there that are doing what they need to do.”

The cause of the collapse is not immediately clear. The overpass, which was being replaced as part of the highway widening project, was in “decent shape” and rated an 84 out of 100 in its last inspection in 2011, he said.

“It was not one that was necessarily in a bad situation,” he said. “Obviously it's a tragic situation that occurred and there's an investigation going on as we speak. It probably will be a couple days before anything specific comes out. There's a lot of rubble of the road and then once that is cleaned up we will have to do a pavement inspection to see if that caused any damage.”

Crews started work around 9 p.m. Monday to remove the overpass and were in the middle of that when the accident happened.

The worker who was killed was a contractor, but it's not clear yet since his name has not been released whether he worked for the main contractor or a subcontractor, Cunningham said.

Residents who live less than 100 yards away from the highway said they could feel the massive bridge smash down.

"The whole house went va va va voom," said resident Amy Spangler. "I was in the kitchen cleaning up and we heard a big loud noise and the building shook, so I thought someone had driven into my house with a car."

Not knowing at first what happened, Tunicia Kinzer feared the worst. 

"I ran  outside and saw that the bridge had collapsed on top of the semi-truck and by the time all the ambulances were out there," she said. "It was very unbelievable and it was very scary at the time because I didn't know what was going on at the time  and had woke my children up out of bed."

Cincinnati police's homicide unit is investigating the worker's death since it was an industrial accident, said Lt. Tim Brown, the night chief.

Federal authorities with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also are expected to be investigating at the scene, if they are not already there, Brown added.

"I am very saddened for the families of the victims of this accident," said U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, (R-Columbia Tusculum) in an appearance Tuesday on FOX19 NOW Morning News. "That being said, it really brings to light the attention we have to pay to our transportation infrastructure system in America. I hope this does stimulate more."

FOX19 NOW has team coverage at the scene. We will continue to update the story throughout the morning as information develops.

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