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The South Florida Roundup

FIU Marks One Year Since Bridge Collapse That Killed Six People

Associated Press
A pedestrian overpass, which connected FIU to the city of Sweetwater, collapsed March 15, 2018. The campus remembered the six victims, one of whom was a student, at a memorial service Friday.

The Florida International University community marked Friday one year since the devastating bridge collapse that killed six people — including a student and a bridge worker.

The school held a memorial service, and a moment of silence took place at 1:47 p.m., the time of the collapse.

The bridge was meant to carry pedestrians across Southwest Eighth Street, connecting the city of Sweetwater with the campus.

The National Transportation Safety Board found that design flaws caused cracking at a critical structural point. The agency’s latest update doesn’t blame those design errors for causing the collapse. A full report is expected to come out later this year.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson spoke with two reporters who've been looking into the collapse for the past year: The Miami Herald's Nick Nehamas and Tony Pipitone with NBC 6.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

WLRN: The Miami Herald published a story about a worker who had some suspicions about concerns with the bridge.

NICK NEHAMAS: Kevin Hanson took photos of these alarming cracks that had started out more as kind of a hairline kind of crack but quickly developed into something much more serious. He had taken pictures on his phone. He'd shared them with his superiors. The design-build team knew about the cracks and reported them to the Department of Transportation.

Mr. Hanson was standing on top of the bridge when it came down. He survived by a miracle. His colleague Navaro Brown was killed. Mr. Hanson was in a coma for several months, and now, his life partner tells us, he's basically like a baby. Having to relearn how to walk, to talk, who his friends are, his children. His family's life has been completely, utterly turned upside down and destroyed.

Who knew what and when?

TONY PIPITONE: Mr. Hanson took that photo on March 10 after the move. The crew went up and distressed those rods that went through that crumbling ultimately crumbling truss. That's the first picture we're aware of that shows cracks at the north end of the bridge that he sent to his superior. So they certainly knew that.

There were concerns about cracking in this bridge going back to its original design and engineer in Tallahassee for FDOT named Tom Andres, had made notes about his concerns about the design. He even suggested within days, weeks of seeing them for the first time, Have you guys considered making this a real stay-cable bridge, instead of a fake one? He asked FIG engineers.

The group that engineered the building, yeah?

PIPITONE: Yeah. They were stuck on the stay-cable design, and they stayed there.

But the NTSB is focused on obviously lots of different things here, but the design being one function of that. And while they've acknowledged that, they haven't gone so far as to say it was a flawed design.

PIPITONE: Just that the design errors were made and that the cracks are consistent with those design errors. But engineers will tell you that usually it's more than one thing that leads to a disaster like this.

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Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.