- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2004

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — A 40-ton steel girder dropped from a freeway overpass construction site onto morning traffic yesterday, crushing one car and killing all three persons inside.

The 100-foot-long girder sagged across three lanes of Interstate 70 west of Denver, shearing off the top of an SUV that was carrying a man, a woman and a young girl, said State Patrol Master Trooper Ron Watkins.

No other vehicles were involved in the accident, which occurred shortly after 10 a.m., Trooper Watkins said. The site is 10 miles west of downtown Denver.

The girder collapsed after temporary braces holding it in place gave way, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Stacy Stegman said. Authorities had not determined why, she said.

U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, Colorado Republican, said investigators were looking into the possibility of “criminal tampering.” Jefferson County sheriff’s spokesman Jim Shires confirmed deputies were investigating but added, “We are not suspecting criminal activity took place.”

A caller to radio station KOA described seeing a blue Dodge SUV cut in half.

“The front, from the driver’s seat forward, is about 200 feet down the road from the other part that’s under the girder,” the caller told KOA. The station did not identify the caller.

The girder was put up Tuesday as crews were adding a lane to a bridge carrying Colorado 470 over I-70, Ms. Stegman said. Each end of the girder rested on a concrete pillar, and it had been attached to the existing bridge with five evenly space braces, she said.

The ends of the beam still rested on the pillars yesterday, but the middle drooped over the highway. The crushed remains of the car were underneath.

Gov. Bill Owens visited the scene yesterday and offered condolences to the family of the unidentified victims.

“I’d say I’m sorry. This is a horrible tragedy, one that you wouldn’t want to have happen to anybody, and we’re going to do everything we can to learn from it so it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators were to meet with Jefferson County officials this morning.

Engineers were on the scene investigating, Ms. Stegman said, adding that no vehicles were on the bridge when the accident occurred. “We can’t figure out why on earth it fell,” she added.

Asphalt Specialties Co. was overseeing the construction project and subcontractor Ridge Erection Co. put the girder in place, Ms. Stegman said. The governor said Asphalt Specialties was cooperating with state and federal investigators.

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