When Tara Latil heard in Jefferson County on Thursday night that two men had been killed by a “broken” crane, she was brought back to 2015.
Her son was killed in a crane accident in the port of Beaumont. Since then, his story has been used by security managers to show employees what can happen and to encourage them to take the job seriously, she said.
“I feel for the families because I know how difficult the road is ahead of them,” she told The Enterprise.
This street, said Latil, is full of questions with few answers.
“To be honest, the first few days are a complete blur,” she said. “I remember being told my son couldn’t make it, and after that I don’t remember the first few days. There was a lot of confusion and the question of why. “
The questions in this week’s case started not long after the first report – around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Initial calls said a heavy device was dropped from a utility vehicle before it hit a vehicle traveling west on Interstate 10. That story changed slightly a few hours later when the Texas Department of Public Safety reported that the crane collapsed and crushed the cab of a 2013 Toyota pickup truck on the westbound interstate.
Much later that evening, however, DPS announced that the construction workers were operating a heavy crane when it malfunctioned and hit the pickup.
Driver Sarfaraz Karowadia (37) and passenger Altaf Kasowadia (37) were pronounced dead by Justice of the Peace Travis McCall at the scene.
Both men were reported as residents of Friendswood and were on their way home at the time of the accident.
The incident closed this section of I-10 for several hours.
With the malfunction on Thursday – just the last one with a crane – Latil said it was time for tougher penalties and more training.
“Unfortunately, most of these companies have insurance,” she said. “So the company itself does not suffer any real penalty. In any case, there should be more monitoring and security mechanisms. “
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 297 crane-related deaths were reported from 2011 to 2017. Fifty of these deaths occurred in Texas. Florida and New York are the second highest represented states, with 16 deaths each.
The report said that half of all crane fatal injuries were to a worker who was hit by an object or equipment.
However, only 8% of deaths occurred on road works.
And Beaumont has a history of them, including a recent crash that is eerily similar to Thursday’s accident.
In 2016, crews were working on US 69 south of Lucas Drive in Beaumont when a mobile crane truck, lifting a sign, hit traffic and hit two cars, crushing one of the vehicle’s roofs and injuring two people.
It was later found that the crane operator had raised the blade without operating the equipment’s booms – beams that extend from the bottom of a crane to increase its stability.
Nobody died in that event, but the victims were finally settled for $ 4.8 million in 2018 after a court found their serious injuries were a direct result of operator errors and lack of supervision.
Paul “Chip” Ferguson, principal partner at Beaumont’s law firm The Ferguson, said it was too early to say what exactly caused the crane to collapse on I-10. However, previous cases have shown that these accidents can often be complex and far-reaching.
“After such a disaster, there are facts that need to be revealed quickly,” he said. “Our experience teaches us that there is usually a multi-factor cause, not just operator human error. Sometimes the money you want to save on equipment leads to people dying. “
Ferguson’s company represented victims of the 2015 crash in the United States 69 as well as families affected by similar incidents on the city’s many highways.
As with Thursday’s fatal accident – and most of the road works according to Ferguson – the US 69 incident involved a subcontractor working for a company completing a major project on the freeway.
Because of the multitude of decision-makers involved in every decision that led to a tragedy like Thursday’s death, companies typically investigate contractors, subcontractors, and sometimes even equipment rental companies to get a fuller picture of the fault.
The prime contractors for the lane widening projects – Johnson Brothers Construction and its parent company Southland Holdings – have a range of experience working on Texas public highways.
TxDOT Beaumont District spokeswoman Sarah Dupre said in a statement that the agency’s contract with the company runs from 365 Farm Road to Walden Road.
“TxDOT is saddened by this accident and loss of life and we extend our condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of those involved,” she said in the statement.
In a statement, Johnson Brothers said it was working with TxDOT to investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident.
“In response to the incident at the I-10 construction site involving subcontractor Hemphill Construction, our thoughts and prayers with everyone involved in this incident are implicated,” the statement said.
A representative from Hemphill Construction could not be reached for comment.
Latil, who set up shop with four companies after her son died, said she understood the job needs to be done. However, she believes that there should be an alternative route for drivers to avoid the construction area altogether, or that construction should only take place when there is less traffic.
TxDOT currently has no work-related road closures for the planned area.
Kaitlin Bain contributed to this report.