On the afternoon of March 15, 2018, a bridge collapsed on the Florida International University (FIU) campus in Miami, killing six people and injuring at least nine others. The partially built pedestrian bridge, which was to connect FIU to the city of Sweetwater, was scheduled to open in 2019. Instead, tragedy struck and six lives were cut short.
The bridge collapse at FIU is a stark reminder of the devastation that can occur when a massive structure fails. If you or a loved one were harmed in the Miami bridge collapse, please call the law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman at (855) 948-5098 or contact us for a free case consultation.
Florida International University Pedestrian Bridge Collapses onto Busy Street
According to witnesses, the Miami bridge collapse at the FIU campus occurred without warning just before 2:00 p.m. EST, crushing vehicles underneath. Onlookers sprang into action and immediately began working to free victims before emergency responders arrived at the scene.
Sweetwater Police Sgt. Jenna Mendez was in her car waiting for a red light when the bridge collapsed. She jumped out of her vehicle and immediately offered aid to four construction workers. Two had broken bones. Another had a major laceration on his head. The fourth was not breathing.
“I started yelling to civilians in the crowd, ‘Please get me doctors… I need help up here.’ A doctor jumped up, and she started helping.” – Sweetwater Police Sgt. Jenna Mendez
Videos of the aftermath show a chaotic scene with car horns blaring. Another witness, Giovanni Hernandez, told a CNN affiliate that the collapse “sounded like a bomb, like multiple bombs in one.”
Sgt. Mendez does not remember the sound of the collapse. What stood out in her memory was the crying. “We were trying to comfort (the survivors),” she said. “They were all pretty much in shock. Nobody was talking to us or answering our questions. We were aware that they were in shock, so we just kind of waited a good 15 minutes for them to start coming out of it and realizing what was going on.”
Lynell Collins also ran toward the scene when the bridge fell. He and another person quickly pulled victims out of crumpled cars. Collins said one of the people he helped told him that his family was still under the rubble and that no one could get them out.
“I was three seconds away from being under the bridge, but I looked forward. All of a sudden I saw the bridge collapse, and it started from the left side of the bridge and it really shocked me…There’s probably like seven or eight cars under the bridge so it was very shocking to me, and I’m very grateful to be alive.” – Witness Susie Bermudez
FIU-Sweetwater Bridge Collapse Victims Identified
Authorities identified the deceased as:
- Alexa Duran (18) was a student at FIU.
- Alberto Arias (53) and Oswald Gonzalez (57) were life partners who co-owned a party planning business.
- Rolando Fraga Hernandez (60) ran an import-export business in Miami.
- Navarro Brown (37) was on-site working on the bridge for Structural Technologies VSL. He was rescued from the rubble and later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
- Brandon Brownfield was a father of three who worked in the crane industry.
What Caused the Miami Bridge Collapse?
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is leading the investigation into the cause of the bridge failure. While the NTSB will likely take about a year to complete its investigation, below is a snapshot of what we know thus far about the collapse:
- Munilla Construction Management (MCM) built the new 950-ton, 174-foot pedestrian bridge. FIGG Bridge Engineers, a division of FIGG Engineering, designed the walkway.
- The new bridge was built using the “Accelerated Bridge Construction” method, which, according to an FIU press release, “reduces potential risk to workers, commuters, and pedestrians and minimizes traffic interruptions.”
- The $14.2 million project was promoted by FIU as being a faster, safer, and cheaper method of bridge-building.
- The bridge was designed to allow pedestrians to walk over a canal and Southwest Eighth Street (also known as Tamiami Trail), a busy six-lane road that was the site of an accident in 2017 that killed an FIU student.
- A massive portion of the bridge had been put into place only five days before the fatal collapse.
- NTSB officials confirmed that prior to the bridge collapse at FIU, crews were applying what is referred to as “post-tensioning force.”
- Two days before the collapse, an engineer with FIGG Bridge Engineers left a voicemail saying some cracking had been found at one end of the concrete span. The NTSB is investigating whether this cracking was a factor in the collapse.
- Joe Smitha, who lost his niece, Alexa Duran in the collapse, called it “complete incompetence” that traffic was allowed underneath the unfinished bridge.
- It has been reported that the engineers who discovered the cracks expressed the opinion that the cracks did not represent a safety hazard.
“This was a colossal failure of the system. This was complete incompetence from the top … I want someone to step up and say, ‘The buck stops with me.'” – Joe Smitha, uncle of FIU bridge collapse victim Alexa Duran
Why Was Traffic Allowed to Travel Under a Cracked Bridge Undergoing a Stress Test?
NTSB investigators will likely spend a significant amount of time answering this question, says Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman. According to Goldman, the reported cracks, stress testing, and the bridge’s largely untested construction method should have been serious red flags for the designers and builders.
“The purpose of this bridge was to protect people from the dangers of the six-lane highway,” says Goldman. “Did anyone stop to consider how best to protect people from the dangers of the bridge during construction? Did those responsible take seriously the reports of cracking? Why was not traffic barred from passing under the bridge until a thorough investigation of the integrity of the bridge structure was completed? These are just some of the serious questions that demand complete answers.”
Miami Bridge Collapse Updates
March 28, 2018 | How Will Officials Investigate the Bridge Collapse at FIU? – Martin Gordon, professor of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology wrote an interesting article dissecting what forensic engineers will be looking at in the FIU bridge collapse investigation.
Here are some of the key points:
- Emergency Response: Investigators will need to study the emergency response in addition to the collapse itself because those operations can potentially damage or displace key evidence in determining the cause of the collapse.
- Weakness in Partial Structure: The bridge was built using accelerated bridge construction, which called for the assembly of separate parts of the bridge. For example, the bridge footings were installed beside the road and the span was built nearby and put into place days before the collapse. The center pylon and pipe supports were not yet in place.
- With this type of plan, each individual part of the bridge must be able to withstand forces acting upon it as the other parts are added to the structure—any weakness could pose problems elsewhere, potentially leading to collapse. What does this tell us? The engineers believed the span and footings by themselves would hold as construction continued. This is all the more evident considering the engineers did not use temporary supports for the bridge during construction, and allowed traffic to flow under the bridge.
- Load on the North End: Per media reports, an engineer on the project reported a crack at the north end of the bridge a couple of days prior to the collapse. According to the video of the collapse, it appears as though the north end was the initial failure point, though this has not been confirmed by the NTSB. It is still too early to determine whether the crack was a factor in the collapse.
- Stress Testing: Media reports also indicate that the bridge may have been undergoing stress testing or adjustments when the collapse occurred. The investigation will reveal if either put too much load on the bridge.
- Questions Remain: Why did the engineers not put up temporary support to shore up the structure? Why did the engineers not call for the road to be closed, especially if the bridge was undergoing stress testing? Both questions are likely to be answered as the investigation into this tragedy continues.
March 20, 2018 | Design Change Put FIU Bridge Over Budget, Behind Schedule – Documents obtained via public records request show the FIU bridge that collapsed and killed six people was behind schedule and over budget, largely due to a key design change and placement of one of its support beams.
Video footage of the bridge collapse shows the concrete segment of the bridge crumbling on the same end of the span where the redesign occurred. The collapse occurred just two days after an engineer reported cracks in the same location.
While it remains unclear at this time whether the design change was a factor in the collapse, communications between FIU, the bridge contractors, Sweetwater city officials and permitting agencies to show that the project was behind schedule, which was a cause for concern among officials who worried that further delays could jeopardize millions in federal Department of Transportation funds.
March 19, 2018 | Survivor Files First FIU Bridge Collapse Lawsuit – A 24-year-old man who was seriously injured in the bridge collapse on the campus of FIU filed the first civil lawsuit against the companies responsible for building the bridge. The suit accuses FIGG Bridge Engineers and Munilla Construction Management (MCM) of negligence. It also names Bolton Perez & Associates, the bridge project’s consulting engineer; Louis Berger, which conducted an independent peer review of the construction, and Network Engineering Services as defendants.