The state Department of Labor and Industries on Monday issued fines totaling nearly $87,000 against several contractors that worked on a Bonney Lake overpass project where a family of three was killed in April.
The citations come about two months after a family member of the victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their estate.
A majority of the state fines — $58,800 — were levied against Staton Cos., the Eugene, Oregon-based company that oversaw the cutting of a concrete barrier that fell on the cab of a pickup truck, killing Josh and Vanessa Ellis and their infant son, Hudson.
WHH Nisqually, the project’s general contractor, was fined $8,400 for two serious violations, while two other subcontractors — Hamilton Construction and Highmark Concrete Contractors — were fined $14,700 and $4,900, respectively.
The companies have 15 days to appeal the fines.
Staton has been cited previously for various workplace violations in Washington and Oregon. In this case, it demolished the concrete barrier atop a state Route 410 overpass without following procedures in its own demolition plan, according to documents obtained by The News Tribune.
What’s more, Staton failed to provide that plan to its subcontractor responsible for the concrete cutting, the labor department said.
One of the three violations states that the company exposed workers below the overpass to the “possibility of an unplanned collapse” that could result in injury or death.
The investigation found that Staton had concerns about the possibility of the barrier falling down during cutting, yet still continued with the work.
State Department of Labor and Industries news release
“The investigation found that Staton had concerns about the possibility of the barrier falling down during cutting, yet still continued with the work,” according to a news release from the labor department.
The company was also cited for not ensuring the concrete barrier was secured or braced to prevent collapse during cutting, documents show.
Mark Scheer, Staton’s attorney, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
Staton was one of two subcontractors removed in May from the project, which was completed this summer. The other was American Concrete Cutting.
A total of six companies were named as defendants in the wrongful death complaint filed on behalf of the Ellis family Aug. 27 in Pierce County Superior Court.
All the companies fined by the state Monday are listed as defendants, as well as the city of Bonney Lake. City spokesman Woody Edvalson said the city couldn’t comment, given the pending litigation.
Among other claims, the lawsuit claims workers didn’t follow the project’s demolition plan.
Staton drafted the plan, documents show. Under that plan, according to the lawsuit:
Workers were to remove the concrete barrier in pieces with an excavator equipped with a “thumb,” designed to grab each individual piece.
This would occur in a three-step process: vertical cuts in 8-foot intervals, a horizontal cut along the bottom of each individual piece, then removal of each piece one-by-one with the excavator.
During the demolition work, flaggers would stop traffic on Angeline Road East below the SR 410 overpass.
But the lawsuit states that plan was interrupted when the defendants “improperly delivered the wrong excavator to the work site.” The equipment didn’t have the thumb needed to grab each piece.
Rather than following the plan, the lawsuit states, the foreman instructed the concrete cutter to make long horizontal cuts the entire length of the barrier.
The lawsuit states the decision was made to maximize the concrete cutter’s time and equipment while the proper excavator was obtained.
After the first horizontal cuts were made, it states the workers discussed whether the unsecured wall would stay on the bridge deck, but decided to continue with a third horizontal cut along the base of the barrier.
“This action was dangerous to anyone traveling on Angeline Road below the bridge because the barrier wall was unsecured and could fall,” the lawsuit states. It adds that the foreman didn’t instruct the flaggers below to stop traffic “in spite of this extreme danger to human safety.”
The lawsuit seeks an undisclosed amount in damages. It was filed by Zach Brown, Vanessa Ellis’ brother, who is a representative of the family’s estate.
It also seeks damages for Diane Hess, Vanessa Ellis’ mother, who was financially dependent on her daughter and son-in-law, according to the lawsuit.
Vanessa and Josh Ellis were youth pastors at the Bonney Lake-area Eastpointe Church. Vanessa was 29, Josh was 25, and Hudson was 8 months old.