A Fresno ironworker at a high-speed rail construction site in Madera County was seriously injured Tuesday afternoon when a steel rebar structure on which he was working fell over on him.
The incident happened shortly before 2 p.m. at a site near Avenue 7, east of Highway 99, where crews are building an overpass that will carry traffic over the future high-speed rail tracks north of the San Joaquin River.
Jerry Ouellette, 48, was partially crushed by the falling steel, according to his nephew, Josh Escovedo of Sacramento. Escovedo told The Bee that Ouellette and others were working when "whatever was harnessing the rebar broke or slipped" and the structure toppled. "Someone saw it and yelled at them, 'Get out!' But my uncle was the worker closest in and couldn't get away."
A spokesman for Cal/OSHA, the state's occupational health and safety agency, said they were notified of the accident on Wednesday. A source reported that that workers were using a crane to lift a forming wall when the rigging failed.
Escovedo said he was told that the rebar pinned Ouellette from the chest down, breaking all of his ribs, an arm and collarbone, and other bones as well as fractured vertebrae. "His surgeons said they believe he may be a paraplegic after this," Escovedo said.
Ouellette works for Martinez Steel, a subcontractor on the rail project, and is a member of the Ironworkers Union Local 155. Escovedo said his uncle has been working in the industry for more than 10 years.
Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, confirmed that one worker was hurt at the Avenue 7 site and remained hospitalized, but did not release any additional information about the worker. Work at the site was halted for a time but had resumed by Wednesday afternoon.
Frank Polizzi, a spokesman for the state Department of Industrial Relations, said Cal/OSHA has opened an investigation with Martinez Steel as well as the general contractor, Tutor Perini / Zachry / Parsons Joint Venture, and could add more employers to the inquiry. Cal/OSHA has six months to issue citations to employers if any workplace-safety violations are discovered.
This is the second serious incident involving work on California's high-speed rail project in the area near the San Joaquin River in recent months. In November, two workers were hospitalized with moderate injuries when a rebar frame for a bridge column fell on the Fresno County side of the San Joaquin River. As it toppled, the rebar hit another column that fell on the workers. Several other workers reportedly received minor injuries in that incident.
The two incident sites are part of the initial 29-mile construction segment from the north end of Madera to south of Fresno for which Tutor Perini / Zachry / Parsons is the prime contractor.