Terry Oelschlaeger said he walked past the new Wachovia tower seconds before glass rained down onto the sidewalk behind him Monday.
“I went home and told my wife, ‘You were 15 seconds from collecting on the insurance,'” he said.
He said no safety worker stopped him from passing in front of the construction area along Tryon Street. His account conflicted with that of the construction site's project manager, who said pedestrians and vehicles were stopped as a crane lifted a load of steel beams overhead. The 75-pound beams came loose, smashing glass panels on the tower as they fell. A piece of metal hit a school bus, but no one was seriously injured.
State safety officials are investigating the incident. It was the second time in a week that shards of glass fell from the tower along South Tryon Street near the intersection with Stonewall Street.
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The mayor and City Council members said Wednesday they would review safety regulations to make sure residents are secure as they pass by busy uptown work sites.
“As we become more vertical, and you're working high off the ground with lots of people moving around the construction sites, we've got to make sure our citizens are safe,” said Councilman John Lassiter.
The project's general contractor said Wednesday that an investigation found the load slipped because it was attached incorrectly to the crane.
Curt Rigney, the site's project manager, has said that safety workers followed company procedures on Monday, stopping vehicle and pedestrian traffic along South Tryon as a crane lifted construction materials. He said that when the load dropped, the workers scattered and vehicles moved forward into the path of the falling debris. The scenario was reconstructed based on interviews with employees at the accident scene and at least two witnesses, Rigney said Wednesday.
There are no city rules about keeping pedestrians or other traffic from passing by a work site when a crane is overhead, local experts have said. Charlotte contractors set their own policies.
The state Department of Labor, which has proposed stricter crane regulations, is focused on protecting workers. The county enforces building codes and sometimes requires that sidewalks be covered, but it doesn't govern cranes or the security of areas across the street from a site.
The city Department of Transportation leases public streets and sidewalks to construction companies and enforces standards for traffic control near construction sites. The department requires sidewalks to be closed under certain circumstances, including demolition, implosions and blasting, Interim Transportation Director Danny Pleasant said in an e-mailed response to questions.
“We evaluate our policies and procedures following any incident, including this one,” he wrote. “In this case, the crane did not swing the load over the open street. It dropped its load within the fenced area and the material bounced into the street.”
Mayor Pat McCrory and several council members said they would like to examine existing rules and the connections between the various agencies to make sure there are not loopholes that leave residents at risk.
“I'm going to be reviewing the whole process,” McCrory said. “It's a good time to review whether enough safeguards are in place from a city perspective.”
Councilmen John Lassiter, Anthony Foxx and Warren Turner agreed.
“Construction regulatory framework is designed in part to make sure people are safe,” Foxx said. “And if there's a gap, it's definitely worth looking at.”
Oelschlaeger, who works in a nearby Wachovia building, said he had just crossed in front of the construction site and had been standing at the corner of South Tryon and Stonewall streets for about 10 or 15 seconds Monday when he heard a rumble behind him. He saw the load of metal beams falling down the tower and smashing window panes as it went.
“It was just rolling down the side of the building,” he said. He said the shattered glass was so thick as it fell on the street that “it looked almost like a rain or snow storm.”
Two cars headed south on South Tryon “gunned it” through a red light at Stonewall to get away from the falling material, he said. It made him think about how close he had come to being hit, he said.
Oelschlaeger said he walks past the construction site three or four times a week and can't remember pedestrian traffic ever being blocked. He thinks construction workers should consistently stop traffic when they are moving cranes around public space.
“Before that thing moves, the danger area should be cleared,” he said.