Monday, November 26, 2007

The Argus Observes --- State supervision of bridge projects seems inadequate

By Don Lynch
From the Nov. 20, 1952 issue of The Argus-Observer

What happens now in the Owyhee bridge tragedy that caused the death of the Corfield brothers, Chester and Joe?

The coroner’s jury said that lack of engineering supervision was the direct cause of the accident. It censured the state industrial accident commission for failure to inspect the job. But the jury couldn’t find evidence of criminal negligence on the part of any specific person.

State highway engineer R.H. Baldock disagreed with the jury’s verdict. He declared that, “it appears there was ample engineering supervision given to the job,” and further, “one of the men now says that just a few minutes before the crash he noted one of the jacks was out of plumb.”

By implication Baldock blames the accident on the jack being out of plumb.

The jury verdict and the Baldock report constitute official action and I suppose the matter will end, but somehow I can’t forget it. And neither can members of the coroner’s jury.

There are some things that don’t ring true in this case and it seems a shame to just let them go.

The highway department’s official explanation of the accident is in complete disagreement with the sworn testimony that workmen gave to the coroner’s jury.

Workmen who appeared before the coroner’s jury failed to report any jack out of plumb and did so under repeated questioning. They insisted they never noticed anything wrong prior to the accident.

Yet the highway department used a jack out of plumb as its official explanation of the accident.
The coroner’s jurymen were unanimous in a feeling that witnesses were withholding information, that they were not given the full story.

The highway department’s explanation of the accident suggests that the jurymen were right in their feeling that information was being withheld.

If this assumption is true, it raises serious questions. Why would the men refuse to give such vital information? How much more information may have been withheld? Does the implication of information withheld provide a basis for further investigation?

Perhaps these questions can be answered in a reasonable manner. On the other hand they pose some serious implications.

Baldock’s statement pointed out that an engineer visited the job October 29, more than a week before the accident and this date agrees with the testimony at the inquest.

The state highway engineer evidently considers this adequate supervision, but the coroner’s jury disagreed. They thought such a dangerous job should have been closely supervised and the death of the two men indicates that the coroner’s jury was right in its opinion.

The state of Oregon is extremely careful in maintaining safety standards in private industry and on private construction work through its industrial accident commission. But the commission had never even inspected this dangerous job.

Every citizen of Oregon has a right to be concerned with this situation. If the state departments are careless of human life on state jobs, it is a matter of genuine concern, and it should be remedied to avoid needless and shameful waste of life.

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