OSHA fines PCL $23,210 for Bonner Bridge demolition collapse that killed worker

The final horizontal section left of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge collapsed during demolition on April 14, 2021. [photo courtesy Don Bowers/Island Free Press]

A federal workplace safety investigation found that established procedures were ignored, causing a welder to fall more than 50 feet to his death when a section of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge collapsed on April 14.

Jose Armando Maqueda Mejia , 42, of Manns Harbor, who family and friends called El Guero, died when the last remaining horizontal structure of the bridge built in 1963 over Oregon Inlet fell.

According to a news release issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Mejia was employed by PCL Civil Constructors Inc. and was torch-cutting crossbeams on the last section of navigation span that remained standing over the inlet where the company had also placed sections of concrete that had been cut away and stacked for removal.

Investigators determined the concrete’s weight caused the structure to collapse and the Mejia to fall. PCL Civil Constructors is the lead contractor for the project to build the Marc Basnight Bridge and demolition of the Bonner Bridge.

PCL Civil Constructors was cited for two serious violations for failure to use engineering surveys or calculations to control the structure’s stability and avoid unplanned collapses.

OSHA also found the employer overloaded bridge sections beyond weight capacity and exposed workers to struck-by and crush-by hazards. OSHA has proposed $23,210 in penalties.

“PCL Civil Constructors violated federal safety standards and a worker needlessly died as a result,” said OSHA Area Director Kimberley Morton in Raleigh. “If they had followed well-known standards, this tragic loss of life could have been prevented.”

Friends and family of Mejda have called for the Bonner Bridge Pier that opened to public on Oct. 1 to be named in his honor.

“… It’s only fitting for his spirit to live on – on a land mark everyone can go and remember him peacefully, not as a tragedy. Armando was a very hard worker for his family. I’m sure they would appreciate having a piece of him still with them that they could share with everyone,” a petition posted on MoveOn says.

Jose Mejia

In his obituary, Armando was described as a dedicated dad, husband, son, brother, cousin, nephew, brother-in-law, son-in-law, and friend.

“He always had a smile on his face that could light up a room and if you needed him, he would stop what he was doing to help, even if it was to give you the shirt off his back,” it reads. “He was known among many as the shrimp man and shared a love of soccer with his soccer brothers. He was always working, whether on a bridge, welding something for someone, fixing a car or building something. His void is greatly felt throughout the community.”

During construction of the Basnight Bridge, PCL workers in 2017 accidentally cut transmission lines that carry electricity to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.

The resulting blackout and then limited power using generators forced a mandatory evacuation of both islands during the height of the summer tourist season.

Power was fully restored six days later, and PCL agreed to pay $10.3 million to businesses, homeowners and vacationers who sued over the outage.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. Learn more about OSHA.

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Sam Walker was news director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 WCMS and Z 92.3 from August 2011 to March 2022.