In an accident a witness described as “just too weird,” a crane lifting a metal column in Mission Valley toppled over onto part of state Route 163 yesterday morning, and a Fallbrook motorist was critically injured.
Phillip Hepner Reid, 48, suffered head injuries when the crane’s boom came down right in the path of his pickup truck as he drove southbound on the freeway at 9:43 a.m. He was taken to Mercy Hospital, where he was in critical condition last night.
“It was totally unexpected. No one even had time to think,” said Stan Fowler, who was driving his own pickup truck just behind Reid’s, yet was unhurt.
“Our view of the crane was blocked by trees and a direction sign. I thought I was going to hit (Reid) dead center. It was just too weird.”
Shredded pieces of the pickup truck’s body were left twisted around the end of the crane, and a hole was gouged in the surface of the freeway where the boom bounced down onto the two far right southbound lanes.
Traffic immediately backed up and the freeway’s southbound lanes were later shut down, with traffic diverted onto southbound Interstate 805 until a little after 2 p.m. Even after the lanes were reopened, traffic was slow through the area most of the afternoon. Traffic on surface streets was also snarled.
The crane’s retractable boom was bent by the impact, but aside from some damaged railings, there was no apparent structural damage to the freeway.
Three other larger cranes were brought in to keep the toppled crane balanced while workers lifted it off the freeway and onto the work site in the southeast corner of the Fashion Valley Shopping Center parking lot.
The hydraulic crane, with a 122-foot boom that can lift 50 tons, had been trying to lift into place a column of metal construction rods that was to
become part of a concrete support for the San Diego Trolley bridge over the freeway.
But as the motorized crane began lifting the 18-ton column, the crane tipped over backward onto its rear end. The crane operator, David Mendoza, was stranded in the crane’s cab and had to kick out a window and jump about 15 feet to the ground.
Mendoza was shaken up and taken to a local hospital, where he was treated and released, according to a spokeswoman for his employer, Bob’s Crane Service in Lakeside. Another worker sprained an ankle as he tried to get out of the way of the toppling crane.
Bob Turner, owner of the crane service, was unavailable for comment yesterday.
FCI Constructors of Carmel Valley, which had leased the crane and is the primary contractor on the project, referred questions to the Metropolitan Transit Development Board, the agency that runs the trolley.
San Diego police Officer A.J. Samuelson, who filed the accident report on the incident, said: “From what I can tell, either the crane extended the
boom too far and became top-heavy or the compaction of the soil under the crane was not solid enough and gave way.”
Investigators from the local office of the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration began looking into the accident yesterday, but said it would be several days before their investigation is complete.
Fowler, 39, of Kearny Mesa, said he was driving downtown for a dental appointment and was just behind and to the left of Reid’s pickup truck on the right side of the freeway. “Everyone was going 55 or 60 mph and there was no way of stopping. He hit the crane and then just sheared off to the
left,” Fowler said.
“I hit his truck and it felt like I was going to roll, so I just reacted. I really didn’t have any control and I wound up all of a sudden going backward and looking at the traffic coming toward me,” Fowler said.
The impact with the crane knocked Reid’s pickup on its side, and being hit by the other pickup propelled it into the center divider, according to the Highway Patrol. Reid and Fowler were alone in their trucks.
Work on the extension of the San Diego Trolley from Old Town to San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium has been going at two shifts a day to complete work near the San Diego River before the rainy season sets in.
A spokeswoman for the transit board said the accident would probably only delay work for a day. The accident caused hydraulic fluid and diesel fuel to leak from the crane, and the Army Corps of Engineers was called in to evaluate whether it caused any harm to the environment.
On May 17, there was another bizarre occurrence on the freeway just a mile north of yesterday’s accident.
During that incident, an unemployed and troubled plumber stole a tank from a National Guard armory in Kearny Mesa and went on a destructive rampage over city streets before the tank became stuck on the freeway’s center divider. The tank’s driver was shot to death by police after he refused to come out.
Category: Accident Report