Today marks a somber anniversary in Milwaukee history.
10 years ago today, the “Big Blue” crane collapse killed three workers at Miller Park.
“There’s a major accident at the stadium here,” said a man making the 911 call at the construction site of Miller Park on the day of July 14th, 1999.
“The entire roof fell. The roof that they were hauling up just collapsed.”
“The big blue crane just started snapping,” said a witness to then-Newsradio 620 WTMJ reporter Cheri Preston who was at the scene moments later.
“I don’t really know what happened to it. It just started leaning over and fell. It took another crane with it.
“I watched three men die.”
“Jerome Starr, Jeffrey Wischer and William DeGraves, families, relatives, from all of us, our thoughts are with you,” said 620WTMJ’s Voice of the Brewers, Bob Uecker, as the team played on the road that night.
“While I am thrilled to be here, I hope all of you will understand that my heart is still in Milwaukee,” said then-Brewers owner and interim commissioner Bud Selig as he opened Safeco Field in Seattle, another stadium with a retractable roof similar to the one being built at Miller Park when the Big Blue incident happened.
Preston was very close to the scene of the collapse.
“It was in the afternoon, and I was waiting to take a class at Marquette University, so I was very close to the stadium. I was sitting in the parking lot, waiting to go into class, turned on the radio, and heard the traffic report,” said Preston on 620WTMJ’s “Wisconsin’s Morning News.”
Then-620WTMJ traffic reporter Tom Carr provided coverage from above while Preston worked the ground.
“I thought, ‘oh wow, ditch this class, you’d better get over to County Stadium right now. I got in just before they closed the police gates and wouldn’t let anybody down to the stadium. I just happened to run into the gentlemen who said ‘I saw three men die.’ ”
10 years later, she still remembers seeing the reaction of the fallen men’s co-workers.
“When those guy started walking out, that was the shock and the fear from all their faces, and that you could hear in their voices.”
Today, she also finds the video of the incident shocking.
“That is something to see that thing come tumbling down. That is really, really frightening.”
“The way that the shot is taken, you’re seeing it from underneath the crane. That’s what’s so stunning about it.”
When Cheri got to the scene, she found very few people, but one who helped her bring the coverage to you.
“There was really no one there in the parking lot. It was a construction site. Construction was happening on the other side. I went on the side from Wisconsin Avenue, so I was on that side. There was really no one there.
“I didn’t have a cell phone, so I went up to some woman sitting in a car and said, ‘Look, you don’t know me, but can I please borrow your cell phone. There’s been a horrible accident.’ She graciously gave me her cell phone so we could report back to you guys what was going on.”
The Big Blue incident actually was the first of a number of deadly crane crashed over the last 10 years.
“There were two fatal ones in New York,” said Cheri about two incidents in 2007 and ’08. “One of them killed seven people, another killed at least three.”
“These things are jacked up onto these high-rise buildings. It’s pretty amazing what they can do, and it’s scary when you think about it.”