Elmhurst worker dies on job site

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Deputy Borough Commander Pat McNally said a crew was working inside the construction site at 52nd Avenue and 92nd Street when the retaining wall along the northern edge of the corner property gave way sometime before 12:25 p.m.

"They were working and they may have upset the foundation," Nally said.

Two workers, also in their 20s, were taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where they were being treated for facial lacerations and contusions, he said. One was treated and released, and the other remained in stable condition Tuesday.

Their names were not released by the authorities.

The other worker was pronounced dead at the scene after he was removed from the trench where he was buried, McNally said.

The Department of Buildings issued a violation to the property's owner, Yong Fa Chi, for failing to provide adequate bracing. A man who answered a phone at Fa Chi's Elmhurst-based U.S.A. Heng Tai, Inc. company said "we have no comment" and hung up.

"I saw the foreman, he looked pretty upset," said neighborhood resident Mary McPherran.

McPherran, 53, said construction had not been going on for very long at the site, where she and others said there was once a large, possibly multi-family house.

It was unclear what type of structure was to be erected at the site but the property is zoned for a walk-up apartment building, according to city Department of Buildings data.

The original building, McPherran said, was razed sometime during the winter, and the lot remained vacant until last week. She said she saw a cement mixer at the site Saturday.

Neighbors said the workers appeared to be Hispanic or Asian.

But The New York Times quoted workers at the site as saying the man who died was a recent immigrant from China and in his 40s. The account differed from police estimates that placed the man in his 20s.

After Monday's foundation collapse at the site, medical personnel inserted cameras into either end of the trench where the workers were pinned to observe their position. Fire Department workers then inserted inflatable air bags to lift the debris.

McNally said it took about 20 minutes to remove the three men.

"The first went rather easily ... the third was pretty buried," McNally said.

Fire Department Lt. John Hopkins said the dead construction worker showed no signs of life as firefighters attempted to extricate him.

"No response from the DOA at all," Hopkins said.

The 6-foot-tall section of retaining wall that fell on the workers was about two feet thick, McNally said. Because of the composition - stone and concrete - it was difficult to determine its weight, Hopkins said.

"It was horrible," said McPherran who arrived to see the workers being removed. "You just pray for somebody like that. Your heart just goes out to the family."

Buildings Department inspectors arrived to investigate but declined to comment.

ConEd workers later appeared with specialized equipment to help firefighters break up and remove chunks of concrete and stone that remained in the trench.

Lt. Curtis Waxenberg of the Fire Department said firefighters would continue to remove debris to search for additional victims.

"It's a long-term operation," Waxenberg said. All missing workers appeared to be accounted for, but "we never take their word for it."

A secretary for John Chen, the architect listed at the site, said he was not in.

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Updated 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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