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Coroner: Charge Company with Involuntary Manslaughter in Construction Death

The February death of an ironworker at the construction site of Pittsburgh's new David L. Lawrence Convention Center wasn't an accident, says Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht; it was a criminal act.

Following a long inquiry that included some 25 interviews with witnesses and construction safety experts, Wecht recommended District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. charge Dick Corp., a subcontractor on the project, with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Paul Corsi Jr.

"The manner of death should be changed to homicide, and the Dick Corp. should be held criminally liable for the death of Paul Corsi," Wecht said Friday.

Zappala said his office plans "a detailed and thorough review of the evidence associated with this case to determine what actions are appropriate and necessary."

Corsi and two other ironworkers were standing on the 13th truss, which was approximately 100 feet long and 90 feet tall, attaching the floor beams that would connect it to the 12th truss. The truss was anchored to the foundation of the convention center at 18 of 27 connection points. Workers had completed installing the floor beams for the second level and were in the process of installing the floor beams for the third level of the convention center when the accident occurred.

Two of the workers, Donald Lenigan and Walter Pasewicz Jr., tied off their safety harnesses to the 12th truss, so when the 13th truss toppled, they did not fall with it. Corsi was tied off to the 13 truss and when it fell, he was thrown to the ground and crushed when the truss landed on him.

According to Wecht, the wrong bolts were used to connect the structure's steel support trusses, which weighed 165 tons each. Ironworkers were using 1-inch bolts of non-hardened steel, rather than the proper 2-inch bolts of hardened steel. Because concrete has been poured over the connections of the trusses, it is unknown if all 15 trusses were connected using the wrong bolts. "Conceivably every ground connection at every one of the 15 trusses is set and secured with substandard anchor bolts," says the coroner's report.

"The failures at every level of this project are so blatant and overwhelming that a reasonable person could only conclude that the actions, errors and omissions on the part of Dick Corp. more than rise to the level of recklessness and grossly negligent conduct," Wecht said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Dick Corp. with three alleged serious safety violations and fined the company $19,000. The company is contesting the citations.

Wecht claimed the company did not conduct sufficient safety and inspection procedures, which would have revealed that incorrect nuts were being used on the 13th truss.

Denny Watts, president and CEO, Dick Corp., released a statement that says the company "strongly disagrees" with Wecht's recommendation to Zappala that charges of involuntary manslaughter be filed.

"We stand behind our record as a company that puts safety first. Dick Corp.'s intent at all times is to protect workers, whenever possible, from the potential hazards of construction work," said Watts.

In a statement, Watts noted that Dick Corp. has had an excellent safety record since the company was founded in 1922. "We are cooperating fully with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to address their previous findings about the accident and to bring closure to this matter. It is important to note that OSHA found no evidence of willful and criminal violations on our part," he added.

Involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison under Pennsylvania law, is a death caused by "recklessness or gross negligence."

For more information, see "13 Unlucky Number for Pittsburgh Iron Worker."

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