Three union Iron Workers were killed July 31 when a 150-foot section of a seven-story parking garage under construction at Portland International Airport collapsed.
Killed were Donn Soto, 25, of Portland, a fourth-year apprentice in Portland Iron Workers Local 29; Nick Colouzis, 55, an assistant business agent and Northwest District Council representative of Seattle-based Iron Workers Local 86; and Christopher Rider, 33, of Vancouver, a member of Alaska-based Iron Workers Local 751 who had been working out of Local 29 for the past three-and-a-half years.
A fourth Iron Worker, Tom Breckenridge of Seattle, who was working below the others communicating by phone with a crane operator, jumped safely several feet to the roof of an elevator housing on the fifth floor. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Paddy Barry, business manager of Local 29. “This is the worst accident this local has experienced. We’ve never lost three guys in a single accident.”
Detroit-based Midwest Steel is the iron subcontractor on the airport expansion project. The general contractor is Baugh Construction. Frank Van Deventer, president of Baugh, said it was the first fatal accident at his company in 25 years of business.
Midwest has a crew of about 50 workers on the job, with six men working on or near the parking structure. The entire $140 million project — which involves adding four floors to the existing three floors of the parking garage adjacent to the terminal, as well as a major overhaul of terminals and roadways — has about 500 construction workers on the job.
Barry said the project had been proceeding without any problems or complaints from workers.
At 3:30 p.m. on July 31 eyewitnesses at the airport told reporters that a crane operator was preparing to set a piece of steel in place when the structure came down. “It happened pretty fast,” said taxi driver Bob Tripp. “A steel beam started to fall and it just hit the next one in a stairstep all the way to the ground.”
Colouzis, Soto and Rider, part of the “raising gang,” were on the sixth and seventh levels bolting steel braces onto the floor of the skeletal parking structure. The three men were tied onto the beams, as is required by state and federal OSHA laws. They rode the falling structure all the way to the ground and were killed instantly, emergency rescue personnel said.
Because Breckenridge was so close to the elevator housing, he did not “tie off.”
“He was within six feet of the existing roof so he didn’t need to be in a harness,” said Barry. “But he’s really shook up right now because he saw the guys going down.”
Barry and Business Agent Bob Clerihew are part of a team investigating the accident, along with the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (OR-OSHA) and an expert from federal OSHA.
“It could be six months before we know what happened,” said Barry. The job has been shut down since the accident occurred, with only a skeleton crew of workers on site, he added.
Midwest Steel was the subcontractor at the new Hyundai plant at Eugene where in November 1996 two members of Local 29 were paralyzed and a third injured when a steel canopy cover collapsed on top of them. Midwest was fined $10,500 by OR-OSHA for failure to brace temporary flooring, failure to train employees to recognize unsafe conditions and for disturbing the site after the accident. OR-OSHA originally had proposed a penalty of $20,000, based on a fourth allegation that Midwest failed to brace the canopy adequately to prevent it from collapsing, but the agency withdrew that complaint in its settlement.
The union has set up a memorial fund at its credit union for the three families of the airport accident. Barry of Local 29 said thus far $18,000 has been raised.
“A member came in and dumped $1,000 cash on my desk,” said Barry. “Guys are taking up collections at all of our worksites.”
About 500 persons attended a memorial service Aug. 3 at Temple Baptist Church, near the Lloyd Center in northeast Portland. Outside, an 80-foot crane held three iron beams suspended over the grass. They bore the union insignia of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, AFL-CIO.
Individual family services in Portland, Seattle and Anchorage also drew huge crowds.
“I really want to thank Art Greenleaf for all he has done,” said Barry.
Greenleaf is chaplain for the Portland Fire Bureau and chaplain at Temple Baptist.
Barry also had high praise for the Trauma Intervention Program (TIP), a volunteer program of the Fire Bureau.
“June, Dennis, Terry, Mike and Tracy set up counseling for our guys,” said Barry. “They were really, really, helpful. We appreciate what they did.”
Donn Soto was the father of an eight-month old daughter. His father Ernest and brothers Kevin and Craig are active members of Local 29, Barry said. Donn was born in Eugene in 1972, graduated from Milwaukie’s Rex Putnam High School in 1991 and worked odd jobs before being accepted into the Iron Workers apprenticeship program. He was in his final year of training.
Colouzis, a former president of Local 86, is survived by a wife and three daughters. He was well respected by his colleagues and loved to hunt when not working.
Rider joined Local 751’s apprenticeship program in 1991. A star swimmer and football player in high school, he followed work to the Portland area and had helped build the Rose Garden Arena. Rider’s wife Peggy bore a son seven weeks ago. He also was the stepfather to seven-year-old Rolin. They had recently bought a home in Vancouver.
Contributions to the Memorial Fund for families of the airport accident can be sent to the Iron Workers Local 29 Credit Union, 6701 SE Foster Road, Portland, OR 97206. For more information, call (503) 774-0777.
Nick Colouzis – An Ironworker for 35 years. Colouzis left behind his wife, Judy, and an 11-year-old daughter, Calli. He also has two daughters from his first marriage. They are Christa Colouzis Hernandez, of Seattle and Nicole Colouzis Nordstrom.
Donn Soto – Age 24, Apprentice Ironworker – Soto left an 8-month-old daughter, Victoria Hager; ironworker brothers Craig and Kevin; and parents Ernie and Kathleen.
Chris Rider – Ironworker- Rider’s widow, Peggy, and his two children, step-son Rollin Pick, 7, and son Nathaniel, 7 months.