Collapse investigation begins

Inspectors try to understand what led to fatal accident at Cape church gym

By CHARLES RUNNELLS, crunnells@news-press.com
Published by news-press.com on September 27, 2003


Paramedics pronounced carpenter Richard Scott Erling, 37, of 5252 Coronado Parkway, dead at the scene Thursday. Erling was buried under the falling boards and plywood, witnesses said.

Co-worker Philip Blasone, 36, of Fort Myers was listed in fair condition Friday at Cape Coral Hospital.

Robert T. Waltman, 40, of Fort Myers was treated and released from Lee Memorial Hospital on Thursday night.

Waltman visited the accident scene Friday afternoon. He limped to the building on a cane.

“I was the lucky one,” Waltman said. “I wasn’t as badly hurt as the other guy.

“It was scary.”

Waltman said his attorney told him not to comment further.

Witnesses said the three men were standing on the roof when it collapsed at 3:05 p.m. Thursday.

Foreman Robert Wayne Ingersoll, 37, of Fort Myers wasn’t hurt.

“It wasn’t our fault,” Ingersoll said while sorting through items at the scene. “It was something that happened.

“We didn’t even have time to think about it. It happened so fast.”

Ingersoll referred all other questions to his bosses at Compass Construction of Cape Coral.

Compass Construction began working on the building about two months ago.

“At this point, we don’t know what happened,” said Mark Stevens, vice president of Compass. “All we know is the roof collapsed.”

Federal investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived at about 12:30 p.m. Friday and took over the scene. OSHA investigates fatal construction accidents.

The investigation could take up to six months, said Les Grove, spokesman for OSHA’s Tampa office. The building was expected to be turned over to Compass Construction by today.

Stevens said the roof work was subcontracted to Errington Construction of Fort Myers, and it in turn contracted American Wood Frame Inc. of Fort Myers. All three victims worked for American.

Errington employees declined comment. A message left with American Wood Frame wasn’t returned.

“We’ve been doing business for 20 years, and this is the first time we’ve had a fatality on a job site,” Stevens said.

OSHA spokesman Grove said inspectors were looking for violations of OSHA safety standards. He wouldn’t discuss what investigators believed might have caused the accident. If found in violation, the contractors or subcontractors could be fined as much as $70,000.

American Wood and Compass have few OSHA violations on record. American Wood hasn’t been cited since 1988, and that was for minor violations involving head protection and other areas. Compass Construction had one minor violation last year regarding fall protection.

Erling’s friend, Dawn Sharp, 36, of Cape Coral described Erling as a hard-working, agile man who moved across rooftops with the grace of a bird or an acrobat.

“Two days ago, I was here and the roof was up,” she said as she stood before the accident scene. “I came here yesterday, and the roof was gone. And Ricky was gone.”

Erling and his wife had three adult children, all from previous marriages, Sharp said.

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