Editor's Note: This story was updated October 30, 2022.
A worker died and three suffered minor injuries in Clay County, Missouri, when a bridge under construction collapsed October 26.
According to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, workers were pouring a concrete deck when the bridge collapsed and trapped four workers around 1:45 p.m. The three injured workers were able to escape, but the fourth worker died.
He was identified Thursday as 22-year-old Connor Ernst of California, Missouri. It took about an hour to reach him, and the collapsed area had to be reinforced by emergency workers during the recovery, according to news reports. The other three workers were taken to a hospital for minor injuries.
Ernst enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating high school in 2018. “During his four years of service, Connor earned the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Service Defense Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and Expert Rifle Qualification Badge with three award bars. He was honorably discharged in July 2022, with the rank of Corporal,” according to his obituary.
It appears the bridge collapsed near its center. Aerial footage from news stations shows new concrete on one side of the bridge and then rebar caved in and bowed down at the center into the creek below.
The workers are employees of Lehman Construction of California, Missouri, the contractor on the replacement of the Northeast 148th Street Bridge near Kearney. The old bridge, which has been demolished, closed in 2016 because of its poor condition. The county received a federal Off-System Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation program grant to replace it. The project included demolishing the old closed bridge. Work began in late May 2021 and is scheduled to be completed in early 2023 on the replacement.
WSP Engineering designed the replacement bridge and is also responsible for performing “inspections at all critical points of the bridge completion process,” according to a statement from Clay County government.
The Sheriff’s Office said an engineering contractor was on the scene before the deck pour inspecting the bridge. “The Clay County Highway Department states there were no safety concerns on the project prior to today,” the Sheriff’s Office states. Workers from several companies were at the site when the collapse occurred, according to the Sheriff's Office.
The county expressed its condolences to Lehman Construction and the families of the workers.
The Sheriff’s Office says it will turn over its findings to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration for its investigation.
Lehman Construction was founded in 1997 and has built multiple bridges in the state, including over interstates. The Northeast 148th Street Bridge project over Carroll Creek involves building a new three-span solid superstructure slab bridge, as well as the roadway approach.
According to online OSHA records, Lehman has two violations:
- On May 22, 2019, it was cited for water accumulated in a trench and later paid a penalty of $8,619.
- On July 23, 2021, it was cited for not having provisions in place for emergency medical attention before a project and was later paid a penalty of $4,096.