Death toll at 3, could rise in parking garage collapse

Published: Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 9:11 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

MIAMI (MCT) — A third man died Thursday morning, a day after a parking garage collapsed on the Doral campus of Miami Dade College.

Samuel Perez was pulled from the rubble around 1 Thursday morning by rescuers who had to amputate his legs to get him out. Perez, 53, died about three hours later in the hospital, according to Miami-Dade police.

Unlike Wednesday’s frantic efforts, the rescue effort gave way to recovery mode on Thursday. Authorities are waiting for engineers to determine the structural safety of the building before workers dig into the rubble looking for victims.

The death toll now stands at three and could go higher as the search continues and at least one worker remains missing.

Police on Thursday identified the other men who died: Carlos Hurtado Demendoza, 48, and Jose Calderon, 60.

The head of the garage contractor said his company is committed to working with local, state and federal authorities to determine what caused the collapse.

“At this time, we are properly focused on the tragic loss of life ... and helping the families involved,” said Bill Byrne, president of Ajax Building Corp.

The section of the garage that fell was the final piece, with a wall to be used by the college as a movie screen or a theatrical backdrop.

Byrne, who appeared distaught at moments at the site Thursday, said that the catastrophe was the worst in his career. He said there was “no warning whatsoever” and that while projects like this one are “fast-paced” on a deadline, he said the work was not rushed.

Wednesday was a day of drama and fear, with a portion of the under-construction garage collapsing flat around noon.

Hearing a rumble, a worried Rick Rutigliano, an electrical supervisor, ran to the other side of the parking garage to check it out.

By the time he reached the site, a major chunk of the $22.5 million, five-story building, under construction on the college’s West Campus in Doral, already had collapsed.

Students ran screaming. Construction workers, yelling “Oh, my God!” scrambled for safety.

“It fell to the ground like a house of cards,” said Victoria Buczynski, who was working Wednesday at Gurkha Cigars across the street from the construction site.

As many as 10 victims went to area hospitals with injuries.

Electricians, welders, painters and other construction workers were inside the garage at the time of the collapse. The victims were construction workers for the garage contractor, Ajax Building Corp., or one of its subcontractors, college spokesman Juan Mendieta said.

Rutigliano said the structure appeared to have started to collapse as a large crane tried to set down an expansion beam on top of an existing one.

“Those guys had only seconds to get out, once the collapse began,” Rutigliano said.

Hundreds of rescuers rushed to what remained of the garage, first shoring up portions of the site before launching a full-scale search.

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