Reposted from The NYTimes…
Worker Who Died in Wall Collapse Warned of Problems at Construction Site
Christopher Gregory for The New York Times
The construction worker, a slim man of 19 who had arrived in New York City from Ecuador less than a year ago, returned to his home in Queens one day last month and told his mother about a close call.
A retaining wall designed to hold back soil around the base of a building where he was working had almost fallen, the man, Fernando Vanegas, had reported. His mother, Enma Ulloa, said it was one in a steady drumbeat of worries he had shared about safety at the construction site in Brooklyn, where a one-story commercial building was being converted into a five-story structure with some residential units.
“He would always tell me about how he had close calls,” Ms. Ulloa said in Spanish on Friday during an interview at the family’s home in Corona, Queens.
The retaining wall fell on Thursday, burying Mr. Vanegas and two other workers beneath a pile of cinder blocks. The other workers were injured. Mr. Vanegas was killed.
His death, coming amid a surge in fatal construction accidents in the city this year, prompted questions about how the city and contracting company had handled reports of structural problems at the work site.
Speaking as several young children went into and out of their apartment, Ms. Ulloa and her husband said they were still looking for answers about what could have been done to prevent their son’s death.
“We can’t let the accident stand as it happened,” Mr. Vanegas’s father, Olmedo Vanegas, said.
A city official familiar with the investigation into the collapse, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing inquiry, said it appeared that proper precautions had not been taken for the excavation work, including providing adequate support, compromising the remaining structure.
City building records going back to last year noted several signs of structural vulnerabilities at the building, at 656 Myrtle Avenue, near Franklin Avenue, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn.
Last August, the building owner was given a violation for failing to maintain the front facade. The violation, considered immediately hazardous, said a section of wood parapet on the facade had come loose along the pedestrian walkway.
Then, on May 10, the Department of Buildings received a complaint about potentially dangerous conditions at the site. The complaint noted that construction workers were not wearing face masks or suits at an asbestos abatement site, and that a wall “was not stable.”
The complaint was referred to the Department of Environmental Protection, which administers the city’s asbestos regulations. The department closed the case after it received paperwork from a licensed asbestos contractor showing that abatement work at the site ended on May 10, a department official said.
The Buildings Department, aware of the building’s earlier structural problems, ordered it vacated, a department spokesman, Alexander Schnell, said. Inspectors visited the site later in May, and again in July.
But in recent months the contractor received a permit for remediation work. Mr. Vanegas and his colleagues were working on stabilizing the property on Thursday when the wall fell, Mr. Schnell said.
Phone calls to representatives of the building’s owner, listed in city records as Binyan Myrtle L.L.C., were not answered on Friday. Someone who answered the phone at a number listed for the general contractor, Y & S Framer’s Inc., hung up after a reporter identified himself.
Mr. Vanegas’s mother described him as a “happy kid” who liked to dance and “really wanted to work.” He was one of eight children and, until December, had been living in Ecuador with other family members.
Before he joined his parents in the United States, Mr. Vanegas had not seen them in 15 years.