- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

A construction worker was crushed to death under a 35-ton concrete slab yesterday morning, when the top two floors of a six-story parking garage being built for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda collapsed.

About a dozen other workers were uninjured after being trapped in the wreckage, but had to be rescued by county firefighters.

Ronal Alvarado Gochez, 25, of Falls Church, who had been on a ladder on the fourth floor, apparently was killed instantly. He was employed by Virginia-based Williams Steel Erection Inc., a subcontractor on the project.

“We never had any communication with the worker,” said Pete Piringer, spokesman for the Montgomery County fire department. “Eventually, we will have a crane to lift that slab off him.”

Dogs and cranes that were brought in to sift through the debris located the victim. His body was recovered about 8:30 p.m.

“We had a secondary collapse in the vicinity of the original area” about a half-hour after the victim was removed, Mr. Piringer said.

More than 200 members of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) fire department and the Montgomery County fire department and Urban Search and Rescue teams responded to the 9 a.m. emergency call on the 300-acre federal campus, across Rockville Pike from the U.S. Naval Hospital Center and about nine miles north of downtown Washington.

Rescue workers late yesterday placed flood lights to help construction crews work into the night to stabilize the collapsed area and lift the slab off the dead man.

Only after the building is stabilized will building examiners try to determine the cause of the collapse in the 1,500-space garage, which was to be completed in March. Construction began last December.

NIH spokesman DonaldRalbovsky said completion will be delayed because the entire structure must be double-checked for structural stability, and the collapse must be repaired.

NIH workers said the need for a parking garage is almost desperate because parking is very limited and employees sometimes have to walk long distances to and from their offices.

Part of the top two floors of the garage gave way about 9 a.m., allowing four slabs — called double-T’s — to crash down, authorities said.

Mr. Gochez was caught between two double-T’s, which are about 50 feet long. A red crane towering over the garage was lifting a “side panel” into place, but was not in contact with the building when the double-T’s fell, Chief Carr said.

The blood donor and clinical center, Building 10, next to the garage were evacuated for a few hours until officials were assured that another collapse was unlikely yesterday.

Construction workers were puzzled.

“I heard a sound. It wasn’t that big. I was in the basement and I continued to work,” said Jim Ellis, 34, an electrician from Hagerstown, Md. “I don’t know what happened. Then they told us to get out.”

Another worker near the Coakley & Williams Construction Co. sign outside the construction project said, “It sounded like a big dumpster.”

“When I looked up and saw it, I said, ‘I hope there’s not anyone underneath there,’” Willie Hamm said.

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