Touhy Ave. reopens 20 hours after I-90 beam kills worker
Federal authorities are investigating why a 40-ton beam fell early Tuesday onto Touhy Avenue from the Jane Addams Tollway in Des Plaines, killing a Berwyn construction worker and injuring three others.
Shortly before 3 a.m., night-shift workers were in lifts under the bridge, preparing to remove the beam that was part of the old eastbound lane of the tollway. One end of it rolled off its support pier and hit Vicente Santoyo, authorities said.
Santoyo, 47, was taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge in critical condition, and he later died, according to Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner.
A second worker taken to Lutheran General, and two others taken to Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, were treated and released, officials said.
The accident caused massive traffic backups into the evening on the eastbound I-90, where two of the three lanes were shut down in the vicinity of the accident. All tollway lanes had reopened by 11 p.m. Tuesday, as well as Touhy Avenue between Wolf Road and Lee Street.
Crews began cutting the fallen beam after dusk in an effort to clear the scene.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will "conduct a thorough investigation into this tragic and preventable incident," said Larry Joswiak, OSHA acting area director in Des Plaines. OSHA takes the stand that "nearly all worksite fatalities, injuries and illnesses are preventable," according to its website.
Officials said the beam weighs 40 tons and is 187 feet long. All day it remained where it fell, leaning at an angle from the bridge, as OSHA investigators combed the site and talked to the other construction workers.
"It's a tragedy," said Greg Bedalov, Illinois Tollway executive director. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the man who lost his life."
The bridge replacement work is part of the overall project to rebuild and widen the 62 miles of I-90 between Rockford and the Tri-State Tollway, scheduled to be done in 2016.
The primary contractor on the segment of work where the accident occurred is Judlau Contracting, which has offices in Lisle, officials said. Santoyo worked for a subcontractor, Omega Demolition, based in Elgin.
OSHA has issued nine citations to Omega previously, mainly for lead hazards nationwide, officials said.
Tollway Chief Engineer Paul Kovacs said Santoyo and the other workers were prepping the old beams to get them ready for removal. Surrounding materials such as concrete had been removed and the beams were being supported by cross braces. Workers were removing a cross brace on the beam in preparation for hooking it up with a crane, Kovacs said.
U.S. Labor Department spokesman Scott Allen said an investigation will determine if Omega was following OSHA standards and regulations.
Inside Barnaby's, a restaurant at Wolf Road and Touhy Avenue, a group of four construction workers sat quietly Tuesday morning, waiting to be interviewed by OSHA investigators working through translators. When asked if they knew Santoyo, they nodded, but they did not want to talk about it.
"A construction worker was killed and three others were injured when a steel beam fell as it was being removed from the bridge," supervisor Ruben Cabares said in Spanish. "I cannot make any other comments until the investigation of the accident is over."
Commuters are being advised to take alternate routes today. Traffic through the south side of Des Plaines was at a standstill most of Tuesday, as bewildered commuters found themselves on unfamiliar residential streets.
Kushner said the city has placed eight electronic message boards on arterial roads around the area to warn drivers of upcoming detours.
Elmer Steinbeck, who also lives north of Touhy, said he's gotten used to noise from the tollway construction -- even the overnight work -- and was not awakened by the accident. He and other neighbors said the workers routinely close Touhy Avenue to traffic in the middle of the night when they are moving a beam, and authorities confirmed the road was closed when the accident occurred.
• Daily Herald staff writers Lee Filas, Marco Ortiz and Eric Peterson contributed to this report.