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Experts say collapsed tower needed brace

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Firefighters atop a ladder assessed wreckage of the Hawaiian Cement tower that collapsed, killing Juan Navarro.

An abandoned cement preheater tower that collapsed last year at Campbell Industrial Park, killing a worker inside, should have been braced before demolition work began as required by federal and state rules, two demolition experts said.

Juan Navarro, 54, of El Monte, Calif., died when the 168-foot tower collapsed when the structure’s legs kicked out at a Hawaiian Cement site at Campbell Industrial Park on May 16, 2009.

Navarro was an employee of unlicensed California-based contractor AG Transport.

According to federal and state demolition safety standards, "When employees are required to work within a structure to be demolished which has been damaged by fire, flood, explosion, or other cause, the walls or floor shall be shored or braced."

Experts said heavy rust on the tower required that it be braced while demolition employees worked inside. But state officials said it was not clear whether the tower needed to be braced.

The state Labor Department imposed fines of $750 each against AG Transport for having no written engineering survey assessing the demolition project and against Hawaii general contractor San Construction LLC for failing to properly supervise the project.


But labor officials did not cite AG Transport for failing to put braces on the tower prior to demolition.

State labor official Jamesner Dumlao said Hawaiian Cement was not cited for failing to build support braces because the department decided it was not clear whether rust had "damaged" the tower.

In a telephone interview, Herbert T. Duane Jr., a demolition consultant in New Hampshire, said that in light of the rust, the contractor should have shored up the building to make sure the structure would not fall when the legs were cut. The contractor could then remove the bracing when ready to pull the building down, he said.

Michael Leary, president of the Oahu-based Island Demo Inc., said he also wondered why no shoring was placed on the tower prior to its demolition, when there was rust causing unknown stress upon the base.

Leary said he took a tour of the Hawaiian Cement site and submitted a price bid to bring down the tower with high-reach demolition machines, which would have kept workers outside the building.

"We would have just cut the thing from the top down from the outside," he said.

Demolition experts said using high-reach demolition machines is more expensive but is safer than putting workers inside to weaken a structure before it is pulled down.

Hawaiian Cement, AG Transport owner Art Gersjes and San Construction official Sanford Ota did not return telephone calls seeking comment. State labor investigators had planned to have a structural engineer from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration make a trip from Washington, D.C., to Hawaii in June 2009 to assist in the investigation.

But the structural engineer was unable to make the trip because of a scheduling conflict and the visit was never rescheduled, the Labor Department confirmed.

In their investigation, state labor officials did not examine whether AG Transport had a Hawaii contractor’s license or made a prudent decision allowing Navarro and other employees to work inside the tower.

Former state labor director Darwin Ching said the department does not get involved in enforcing contractor licensing laws and does not have a record of a contractor’s license number in California for Gersjes.

Gersjes told a state labor investigator he has done scores of demolition jobs in various states, including California and Nevada.


The California Contractors State License Board spokeswoman Venus Stromberg and California labor spokeswoman Krisann Chasarik have been unable to find a contractor’s license or demolition permits issued to AG Transport or Gersjes.

The state Regulated Industries Complaints Office is investigating the activity of AG Transport and its alleged unlicensed contractor activity at Hawaiian Cement.

Joanne Uchida said the investigation involves a look at requirements of state contractors, AG Transport, and any other participating entities or persons.

After the legislative hearing, some state legislators said they will introduce bills that would increase penalties for violation of worker safety laws.

The plan follows what some viewed as low fines imposed by the Labor Department on two contractors associated with the collapse of the tower.

State House Labor Chairman Karl Rhoads (D, Kakaako-Downtown) said he plans to look at increasing the $750 fines for labor safety violations.

"I just don’t think it’s a big enough fine to do any good," he said.

The family of Juan Navarro filed a lawsuit June 15 in Circuit Court, alleging negligence on the part of Hawaiian Cement and San Construction.

The lawsuit notes the lack of a written engineering survey in the tower collapse.

Michael Coad, Hawaiian Cement’s vice president of operations, said the business had not been served with the lawsuit and declined comment.


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