- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CINCINNATI (AP) - A highway where an overpass collapse during demolition work left one worker dead and a tractor-trailer driver injured was cleared of concrete and steel on Tuesday and reopened, but police were left wondering what the casualty toll might have been had the accident occurred amid heavy traffic.

The removal of tons of debris from Interstate 75 began Tuesday afternoon and was completed by nighttime, allowing the closed southbound lanes to reopen to traffic. Minor repairs were made, the state Department of Transportation said.

Casualties could have been much higher had the late-night collapse happened at a busy time on the interstate, which carries more than 178,000 vehicles a day through the area 5 miles north of the Ohio River, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said.

Authorities identified the worker who was killed as Brandon William Carl, of Augusta, Kentucky. The Hamilton County coroner’s office will do an autopsy to determine the cause of his death. Fire officials said his body was recovered from rubble with the help of air bags and special equipment early Tuesday morning, about four hours after the accident.

Carl was a good, honest, hardworking man who took care of his children, his father, Charles Carl, told WCPO-TV.

“He loved his kids,” Charles Carl said.

The tractor-trailer driver, Eric J. Meyers, of Howell, Michigan, slammed into the overpass as the debris landed. He was taken to a hospital with what were described as minor injuries.

“In a matter of seconds his fate would have probably been different,” Blackwell said.

A 911 caller, construction company employee Greg Turner, said he saw the overpass fall.

“We were taking the bridge down - it just collapsed,” Turner said, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.

A nearby resident said the overpass collapse, around 10:30 p.m. Monday, rattled his house.

“Just heard a thud, and the house shook,” Casey Wright told WLWT-TV. “It felt like an earthquake. I’m sure the whole neighborhood felt it.”

Transportation officials said heavy equipment was being used to separate the concrete deck from structural steel when the span fell. Gary Middleton, an acting deputy director of the transportation department, said it was a “routine operation” being carried out by a major contractor.

Westerville-based Kokosing Construction was doing the demolition under a nearly $91 million contract for a three-year project meant to improve traffic capacity and safety in a busy stretch of I-75. The company had a good safety track record, federal regulators said.

The cause of the accident is under investigation.

The overpass once carried a ramp that had been a left-hand exit from northbound I-75 and took traffic over the southbound lanes. It was replaced by a ramp that exits to the right from northbound 75 near the University of Cincinnati.

Middleton said Kokosing is a “very safety-conscious” contractor with high ratings. The company didn’t immediately respond to messages left Tuesday.

The firm is responsible for debris cleanup and could be assessed damages for forcing lane closures and other work, Middleton said. Kokosing also could face fines and other disciplinary action by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which was investigating the work-related death.

OSHA has inspected the company in Ohio at least 55 times since 2003 and found fewer than 10 violations, agency spokesman Scott Allen said.

“That’s a good track record for any company,” said Allen, who could not immediately provide details on the violations.

Suburban commuters headed downtown Tuesday morning had been diverted to Interstate 71 south, where traffic slowed. Motorists headed to Kentucky took the Interstate 275 loop around the city. Southbound side streets were congested.

The construction project had been scheduled for completion in June 2016. Planned northbound I-75 closures for work Tuesday night were postponed.

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Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Ann Sanner in Columbus and Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed.

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Contact Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell

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