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Collapse chills Cline Avenue survivor

BRIDGE COLLAPSE: Friday's accident eerily similar to 1982 tragedy, he says

BY MARC CHASE
mchase@nwitimes.com
219.662.5330

This story ran on nwitimes.com on Sunday, August 21, 2005 12:53 AM CDT


The twisted wreckage of a collapsed bridge on the front page of Donald Ketchum's Saturday morning paper looked eerily familiar to the Valparaiso man.

Ketchum said it was as if he was staring at a modern-day photo of the bridge collapse that killed his brother and nearly took his own life 23 years ago in East Chicago.

As a survivor of the 1982 Cline Avenue bridge collapse -- the worst industrial accident in Indiana history -- Ketchum hopes public safety officials thoroughly investigate Friday's collapse of a bridge ramp being constructed near the convergence of interstates 80, 294 and 94 in Lansing to determine whether proper supports and safety procedures were being used.

Friday's bridge collapse killed one worker and sent two others to the hospital. Just a handful of miles east of that site is where Ketchum, his brother, Billy Bricker, and more than a dozen other construction workers building the bridge plunged as far as 65 feet when 444 feet of the Cline Avenue bridge fell in sections like dominoes on April 15, 1982.

Bricker was one of 14 workers who died in the collapse. Ketchum survived, despite the plunge that brought with it shattered limbs and a collapsed lung.

"You see where that concrete column is still standing and all of that steel laying off to the side?" Ketchum asked Saturday, looking at a photo of the wreckage. "That looks an awful lot like what I remember looking at when the Cline Avenue bridge went down. It's pretty scary."

Looking at the image is like reliving a real nightmare, Ketchum said.

And he said he had a pretty good idea how the family of the dead worker and of those injured while working on the Lansing bridge project must feel.

Ketchum recalls not learning of his brother's death until two weeks following the collapse as he was recovering in a region hospital.

"At first I thought, why was he the one that died and not me," Ketchum said, noting that Bricker, 24 at the time, had only been working a few feet away from him when a sound like a thunder clap rang out and the Cline Avenue bridge crumbled.

"Those people in this recent incident are feeling a lot of anger right now and all kinds of other emotions," Ketchum said.

Ketchum said he still feels frustrated today regarding the way the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration dealt with the collapse.

Despite findings that the construction company Ketchum had been working for committed 13 different violations, an initial fine of $22,680 was reduced to $6,000, even though the two most serious violations remained on the company's safety record.

Those two violations alleged that the concrete pads supporting the Cline Avenue bridge were not capable of handling intended loads and that the framework and shoring of the bridge was not erected according to previously approved plans.

Ketchum now hopes that federal OSHA, which has jurisdiction in Illinois, will investigate the incident thoroughly and hold any violators accountable.

"I just hope that if they find something was wrong, that the fines don't turn out to be a minimal thing," Ketchum said.

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