Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2021

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Civil trial begins in fatal crane accident

A decision to forgo safety concerns in favor of a speedy end to a Laughlin construction project and the bonuses that went with it has been blamed for a crane collapse that killed three people.

During opening statements Thursday in the civil trial over the deaths, an attorney for the family of one victim charged that shortcuts to make up lost construction time led to the disaster.

A jury in District Judge Nancy Becker's courtroom is being asked to determine what compensation is due the victims of the December 1994 incident at the Riverside hotel-casino.

Before the opening statements, the 2-year-old sons of one victim, Adalverto Gomez, fidgeted in court before being introduced to the jury.

The boys, Moises and Davis Coronel born 10 months apart, stood shyly for a few moments for inspection in their dress clothes with vests.

Bob Jensen, the attorney for them and their mother, Patricia Coronel, told the jurors that Gomez was driving by the nearly finished tower at the Riverside in the town 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas when his car was crushed by the falling crane.

The 320-foot crane was being used to dismantle a construction crane that had rested atop the new tower, which was nearly completed.

But a 35,000-pound piece of equipment being lowered proved to be too heavy for the crane and sent it crashing into a parking lot filled with cars and people, Jensen said.

The three victims, Jensen said, suffered "horrific, disfiguring injuries."

Attorney Ian Christopherson, who represents the family of Joe D. Williams, said there were numerous mistakes made by the contractor and the crane operators, including failing to close the parking lot to the public or warn tourists of the potential dangers.

He added that the crane, that was longer than a football field, may not have been adequately braced for the unusually heavy load it was being asked to carry.

Jensen said some of the vital equipment in the crane was inoperable.

The lawsuit names Dielco Crane Service, which owned the crane; Perini Construction Co., the general contractor; the Riverside and Hard Rock Erectors Inc. and Morrow Equipment Co., which were involved in the dismantling project.

Like Gomez, Williams died when the crane fell on the car he was driving and crushed him.

Christopherson told the jury that the 70-year-old Williams and his wife, Joyce, would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1995.

The third man killed was Riverside employee Scott Kohler, 30, of Bullhead City, Ariz., who was walking near the construction site when the tip of the falling crane hit him.

A year ago, three of the companies named in the lawsuit were cited and fined a total of $213,500 for the fatal crane accident by the State Department of Industrial Relations.

The six-month investigation by the division's Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement section concluded that "serious and willful violations" of the OSHA act occurred.

The investigation determined that the three companies did not properly prepare for and conduct the lift of a section of a fixed tower crane which was being dismantled.

Perini Building Co., was fined $70,000; Hardrock Erectors Inc. was fined $63,000; and Dielco Crane & Rigging Co. was fined $80,500.