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One dead following parking garage collapse

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Published on: Friday, May 24, 2013

By Holden Wilen

BETHESDA- One man is dead and another is seriously injured after a 40-foot, 55,000 pound (27.5 ton) piece of concrete collapsed at Westfield Montgomery Mall Thursday afternoon.

According to Montgomery County Assistant Fire Chief Scott Graham, Fire and Rescue received a call at 1:45 p.m. after report of a construction accident at the parking garage at the west side of the mall. A beam collapsed on two men who were working on renovations to the second level of the garage. There were no cars parked in that section of the garage because it was under construction.

One of the workers was publicly declared dead around 3:00 pm. The second worker was finally freed at 5:55 p.m., Graham said, after four hours trapped under the concrete, and transported with serious, life-threatening injuries to a trauma center in Baltimore, Graham. The patient was conscious and able to speak when rescue teams freed him.

More than a 150 personnel were on the scene, Graham said, including Montgomery County police’s emergency response team. Getting the individual out of the garage proved to be difficult, because engineers and rescuers noticed movement and cracking in the structure. Due to the instability of the structure, Graham said the beam could not just simply be lifted.

“In this type of a situation you cannot lift it because for every action there is an opposite reaction,” Graham said. “If we lift at one end it could kick off of the other end and the whole thing could collapse. What we he had to do was sure it to where it was seated and then remove materials whether it be steel or concrete around the patient in order to free him.”

Montgomery County police detectives will perform an investigation to find out what caused the collapse, Graham said. Fire and rescue teams will remain on scene to make sure the structure remains stable. The mall will remain open because it was not affected by the incident.

The garage was only the beginning of the renovations planned for the shopping center. A construction request submitted in August 2012, shows the retail company, who also owns Westfield Annapolis and Westfield Wheaton, had plans to renovate the center to reconfigure 65,000 square feet of retail and parking area and add a movie theater.

“This is a tragic accident,” Graham said. “This is something none of us ever want to witness or deal with.”

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