Company was negligent in fatal collapse of Bonner Bridge, federal regulators say

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The collapse of a section of the Bonner Bridge last spring that killed a worker and injured another resulted from a contractor’s failure to follow established safety procedures, federal regulators said Friday.

A welder working on the bridge fell 50 feet to his death when a section of the old Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet collapsed shortly before 5 p.m. on April 14. The workers were helping to dismantle the bridge when the accident occurred.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited PCL Civil Constructors with two serious violations for failing to use engineering surveys or calculations to control the bridge’s stability and avoid unplanned collapses. OSHA also found the company overloaded bridge sections beyond their weight capacity and exposed workers to hazards.

The agency has proposed to fine the company $23,210.

Jose Armando Maqueda Mejia (El Guero), 42, of Manns Harbor died when the section he was standing on collapsed.

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

OSHA says Mejia was using a torch to cut crossbeams on a section of the bridge where the company had discarded concrete for removal. The concrete’s weight caused the structure to collapse and Mejia to fall, the agency said.

Mejia grew up in Mexico and moved to the United States when he was 18 and had lived in Manns Harbor since 1999, according to an obituary posted by Twiford Funeral Homes. The obituary describes him as a dedicated father and husband who loved soccer and had done bridge work from the time he was 20.

Most of the old bridge had already been taken down when the accident occurred. The part being dismantled was near the main channel of the inlet and didn’t include a section at the south end now used as a fishing pier and pedestrian walkway. The pier opened to the public this month.

The Herbert C. Bonner Bridge was completed in 1963, connecting Hatteras Island with the mainland. It was named for the man who represented the area in Congress from 1940 until his death in 1965.

The bridge was replaced in 2019 by the 2.8-mile Marc Basnight Bridge, named for the former state Senate leader who represented the area in the Senate from 1984 until his resignation for health reasons in 2011. Basnight died in December at age 73.

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