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Crane collapse in Bellevue kills man

Heavy equipment crashes into buildings, apartments

Nov 17, 2006 | Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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One person inside an apartment building was killed when a construction crane collapsed Thursday evening in downtown Bellevue, striking several buildings.

Bellevue Fire Department Lt. Bruce Kroon said the man's body was found in a fourth-floor apartment of the Pinnacle Bell Centre.

The crane was being operated at the time it fell, and the operator was hurt but reportedly not seriously, police spokesman Greg Grannis said.

Paul Leeper and Linda Rosario, both 42, live in a third-floor condo directly below the point of impact in the Pinnacle Bell Centre building. They believe the dead man lived in the unit above them.

Rosario was working at her computer in the living room of her condo. She was about three to four feet from the windows. "I heard this rumbling like thunder, getting louder," she said. "It was quite terrifying."

Suddenly, glass was everywhere.

"I covered my head. I stood frozen. I told my husband to throw me my shoes. There was glass all around. I called 911. They said, 'police, fire or medical?' I said, 'Everything.' "

Leeper said he heard a loud rumbling, then a huge boom. "I thought it was a plane. My wife thought it was an earthquake. The fourth floor it was toast. My deck is missing."

The impact caved in their ceiling, lowering it by a foot.

"I guess it wasn't my time," Rosario said.

Firefighters used a ladder to retrieve the operator from about 20 to 30 feet above the ground, but he was able to pull himself out of the cage, Kroon said. He was taken to Overlake Hospital. The hospital reported no other victims had been brought in as of midnight.

The accident occurred about 7:30 p.m. at 108th Avenue Northeast near Northeast Fourth and Second streets, a bit north of the Seastar Restaurant. The crane was blocking 108th Avenue Northeast, a major downtown intersection, and the damaged buildings included Plaza 305 and the Civica Office Commons.

The crane had been working on Tower 333, which is an office building that has been vacant for a few years, officials said.

Tower 333 is a 20-story, 430,000-square-foot office building that was formerly known as the Bellevue Technology Tower.

It was approaching the final stages of completion, according to the developer's Web site. The project was scheduled to be completed in October 2007.

Brokers and real estate sources told the P-I in August that Google Inc. had its eye on the tower for possible offices.

Two men who work nights on a Pilchuck Contractors road crew saw the crane fall and ran to the buildings, arriving before police.

"It was unbelievable," said Turk Allen. "I've never seen anything like it, and I hope I never see anything like it again.

"I think I'm going to have at least a couple bad dreams about it."

Adam Moore said he heard a loud pop, looked over and saw the crane "make a slow roll into the side of the building." Then he saw sparks fly.

"It sounded like a tire blowing out times 1,000," Moore said.

The two men ran down a catwalk into the building, looking for victims. They spotted a four-man cleaning crew, but none had been harmed in the crash.

The crane operator told fire officials he was getting ready to shut down for the night when he heard a crack and the crane went down, Kroon said.

Part of the top floor of the Pinnacle Bell Centre was crushed and the building immediately next to the crane, Plaza 305, was damaged extensively, Kroon said. About 100 displaced residents in the apartments were taken to the Bellevue Hilton and other locations and sheltered overnight.

Police officers and firefighters are still checking other buildings that were hit by the crane. The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

The victim in the apartment was in a fourth-floor unit. His identity was being withheld Thursday night, pending notification of relatives.

From the street, a piece of the man's furniture, likely a couch, poked through the gash that was left by the crane. The crane was still bent up against the building.

The crane operator had been securing the crane for the night when he heard a snap and it collapsed with him still inside, Fire Chief Mario Trevino said. The operator rode the crane down when it collapsed.

The crane hit three buildings in all. It first hit an office building, then came down on the apartment building and then shaved the side of another building with mixed business/retail inside.

Andy Redinger, who lives in a building next door to the apartments, said he felt the "ground shake." Redinger, who said he used to work in a metal factory, said it sounded like someone had taken several carts full of metal and had thrown them off a building.

Jennifer O'Rourke, 36, a Microsoft employee who was working late when the accident occurred, said she arrived home to find her condo unit blocked off.

"I'm very worried about my birds," she said. "I have a pet parrot. She's in the dark."

Jim Riley, manager at the Jimmy Johns sandwich shop about a block away, said he and his employees went out to the parking lot and saw smoke billowing out of the nearby buildings.

"The first thing I thought was that it was another 9/11," he said.

Riley sent his driver to investigate the situation, and was told there was a "huge hole in the building."

The crane collapse occurred about an hour after rush hour.

"If this occurred an hour earlier, it could have been a lot worse," Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger said.

One of the buildings hit was the Civica Office Commons, which sustained damage to the northeast corner on the fifth and sixth floors.

Kellanne Henry was working on the fourth floor with a co-worker. She recalled working in a high-rise office building in San Francisco when the 1989 earthquake hit there.

"At first, I thought it was an earthquake. But it was such a violent impact to the building that I knew it wasn't an earthquake. I thought it was a bomb," Henry said.

Late Thursday, fire and police officials were still on the scene looking for possible other victims, using police dogs to search through the debris. The state Department of Labor and Industries also had investigators at the site Thursday night.

J.C. Hong, 37, lives next door to the unit where the fatality occurred. He is a Lexus salesman called away to business Thursday afternoon in Tacoma.

"I wanted to go home," he said. "But it was a good thing. Otherwise I would have been at home probably watching TV."

His wife, Soo Young, 36, said of the cranes: "Before this happened, I thought about a crane falling. I thought it could do a lot of damage if it fell down."
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