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Construction company renovating Raymond James Stadium has history of injuries and deaths at other sites

The 12th Man statue at Texas A&M's Kyle Field. During renovation of the stadium in 2013, a worker died. One of the companies behind the construction, Manhattan Construction, is now working on the renovation of Raymond James Stadium. Times File Photo

The 12th Man statue at Texas A&M's Kyle Field. During renovation of the stadium in 2013, a worker died. One of the companies behind the construction, Manhattan Construction, is now working on the renovation of Raymond James Stadium. Times File Photo

TAMPA — Angel Garcia was operating a small Caterpillar loader during construction of Texas A&M's Kyle Field when a large chunk of concrete fell into the machine's bucket. Garcia, 28, was catapulted from the tractor and fell four stories before landing on his back in a pile of rubble. He died at a nearby hospital, leaving behind two young children.

Garcia's family argued that Manhattan Construction Co. and its partner on the Kyle Field renovation dangerously rushed to have the stadium ready by Texas A&M's 2014 football season. A jury awarded the family $53 million this month.

Manhattan Construction is now in charge of another stadium renovation — Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. And, just as at Kyle Field, the company has a quick turnaround to complete construction before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first home game in September.

"I would definitely be concerned," said Jason Gibson, the Garcia family lawyer.

Garcia's death is not the only serious casualty on a Manhattan Construction site or at a stadium built by the privately owned company. In 2008, an electrician died when he touched a high-voltage wire while working on the new Dallas Cowboys stadium for a subcontractor of Manhattan.

The Oklahoma-based company also oversaw the building of Element, a high-rise apartment complex in downtown Tampa. During construction in 2008, a thin metal rod fell 26 floors and pierced the helmet and head of a worker, killing him.

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Manhattan president John Reyhan defended the company's safety record and said its "safety standards are more stringent than (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires."

"On all of our projects, including the Raymond James Stadium project, subcontractors are required to participate in our on-site safety training program and provide weekly safety training to proactively address specific construction activities and the unique job site conditions," Reyhan said.

In December, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tampa Sports Authority agreed on terms for an $87 million, two-year renovation of Raymond James with hopes of improving the fan experience and preparing the 17-year-old stadium to host future Super Bowls.

The taxpayer-funded TSA owns and operates the stadium and will contribute $29 million to the renovations. But the contract for the renovation was not put out for bid.

Instead, the Buccaneers agreed to front all the costs of the renovations, which gave it the authority to handpick the construction company to head the project. The team chose Manhattan.

When it came time for the TSA board, Hillsborough County commissioners and Tampa City Council to vote on the agreement, some local officials talked about the importance of making sure Manhattan met local requirements for minority hiring. But the company's safety record was not discussed.

"We conducted a thorough evaluation of all general contractor applicants for the Raymond James Stadium renovation project," Buccaneers chief operating officer Brian Ford said in a statement to the Times. "We are satisfied that Manhattan Construction will comply with all safety requirements."

Construction will take place in two phases over the next two off-seasons. Phase one began Jan. 21 and includes the installation of high-definition video boards in each end zone and the corners of the stadium, a sound system, concessions improvements, and upgrades of luxury suites and the press box.

TSA officials are hyperaware of logistical hurdles to completing construction before the Buccaneers' season starts. In addition to the quick turnaround, construction had to stop for a Monster Jam event on Feb. 6. It will pause again for two international women's soccer matches March 3 and the recently announced Beyonce concert April 29.

Asked about the construction schedule during a recent meeting of the Tampa Sports Authority's executive committee, TSA president and CEO Eric Hart said, "To say 'tight' would probably be an understatement."

Gibson, the lawyer, said the circumstances sound similar to Manhattan's work at Texas A&M. When pressed by a tough deadline and financial penalties for not finishing on time, he said the company and its partner cut corners that led directly to Garcia's death.

Garcia was working high up in the concourse where his tractor was supposed to redirect falling beams cut 6 inches wide. But to speed up the demolition, the beams were cut into 2 1/2-foot chunks, Gibson said. Instead of catching 500 pounds of beams, several tons of material were directed toward his small loader.

"That's one of the most dangerous thing you can do," Gibson said experts testified. "You can't overload or bad things happen."

OSHA penalized the subcontractor who hired Garcia, but not Manhattan or its partner, J.T. Vaughn Construction. That's not uncommon.

Federal regulators tried to slap violations on Manhattan after two workers were injured in 2012 during the construction of Florida's Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. But a review commission overruled the fines.

In June 2009, OSHA cited Manhattan with two safety violations related to construction of AT&T Stadium in Dallas. During construction of the Cowboys stadium from 2006 to 2009, local news reports said there were more than 175 injuries.

Most injuries were minor. But the list also included: a worker who suffered head and chest trauma and a broken leg and another who hurt his back when they slid off an icy roof and were caught by a gutter; a worker who fell 20 feet from scaffolding onto the field; crane cables striking a worker in the back, resulting in broken vertebrae; and three men who were injured when they were forced to jump more than 15 feet to avoid whipping cables after a crane malfunctioned.

Manhattan was also cited with two OSHA infractions in 2010 at a Tennessee work site.

Asked if the TSA was concerned about liability if something happened during construction of Raymond James, TSA spokesman Bobby Silvest said: "We are not going to speculate on 'what ifs.' "

"We are excited about moving this project forward," he said, "and very confident with the agreement in place."

Times senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com.

Construction company renovating Raymond James Stadium has history of injuries and deaths at other sites 02/19/16 [Last modified: Sunday, February 21, 2016 10:40pm]
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