It’s been five and a half months since the FIU bridge collapsed, killing six people.
But federal and state officials have imposed an almost-total blackout on information – information that is usually public in Florida.
Now, as lawsuits are filed and some information begins to dribble out, we are learning a few more things about what happened and what will happen next.
Here are six recent developments:
1) NTSB STATEMENT IN DOUBT
Video released from FIU contradicts what the NTSB reported about work being done just before the collapse of the pedestrian bridge. In a March 21 news release, the agency said: “The investigative team has confirmed that workers were adjusting tension on the two tensioning rods located in the diagonal member at the north end of the span when the bridge collapsed. They had done this same work earlier at the south end, moved to the north side, and had adjusted one rod. They were working on the second rod when the span failed and collapsed.”
Watch this time lapsed video that begins at sunrise on Thursday March 15 and ends with the collapse at 1:47 p.m. and you can clearly see the workers had only been working on the north side of the span before it collapsed. It appears they never restressed the rods on the south side on that day – and a review of previous days’ video shows no work there, either. NTSB would not comment on the differences between their statement and what the video shows.
2) MISSING PIECES
A circuit court judge is allowing parties to investigate circumstances surrounding the destruction of 26 steel rods that had been flagged for preservation by one of the defendants during a court-ordered inspection of the job site in July. An attorney for one of the defendants said he believed he had “tagged” for preservation both a nut and the 26 steel rods accompanying it. But the rods were removed in August by representatives of Structural Technologies – a defendant which, among other tasks, used steel rods for post tensioning. Earlier this month, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey granted a motion allowing an inquiry to go forward, but cautioned, “I don’t know whether the rods are important or not… This could’ve been a mistake.” But if it turns out a party intentionally destroyed what it should have known could be key evidence, she could instruct any future jury to draw "adverse inferences” based on that party’s conduct – in other words, to assume bad motive for destroying evidence.
Structural’s lawyer would not comment on the matter, but said in court the yellow tag was attached only to the nut and, after consulting with a Munilla employee in charge of the site, Structural was told it could remove the rods, leaving behind the nut. The rods are 1 ¾ inches thick – the same size as those being tightened in the truss that failed, so they could be significant, one lawyer argued. The NTSB also collected rods of that size from the site and tested them, finding no issues with the materials, the agency said. The video below shows what the nut and rods looked like after the nut was tagged for preservation and before the rods were removed. It also shows a document – an evidence custody form prepared at the site – identifying the material to be preserved as “26 threaded steel rods w/bolts.”
3) FOUR-HOUR GAP IN VIDEO
FIU had at least three cameras trained on the construction site round the clock, capturing time lapse video of what was to be the campus’ showcase pedestrian bridge. But the camera with the most direct view of the north side of the span – the side that had cracked and failed – is missing about four hours of coverage on the morning of Monday March 12. When it comes back on, a backhoe is seen working to deepen the canal just north of the pier that is holding the deck and canopy that would collapse three days later. The backhoe is seen operating there during work hours from Monday through the time of the collapse. No record yet made public reveals who may have ordered that work to be done and what impact, if any, it had on what happened.
This video shows the camera shutting off early Monday morning and coming back later that day. FIU said it did not redact any video, so it may have been a technical malfunction that caused the gap.
4) VIDEO FILLS IN TIMELINE
The time lapse video from March 15 provides the best record made public so far of when events occurred on the bridge that day.
FDOT, FIU and others have refused to release records that could reveal exactly what was said about the cracks at a 9 a.m. meeting among Figg, Munilla, FIU and FDOT representatives.
The video shows a group of people around 8 a.m., paying close attention to the cracked area at the north end of the bridge. It also shows workers then getting onto the canopy.
By 9 a.m – as the meeting convened in the Munilla construction trailer in the upper right of the video -- there is almost no one on the bridge for about a half hour.
At around 9:30 the crane that would be used to lift equipment for the re-tensioning arrives.
By 10:40 workers are back up on the canopy working on the northernmost tension bars.
And at 1:47 it collapses.
5) NEW PLANS FOUND AMID DEBRIS
The judge has been informed that, amid all the debris at the collapse site, something very important may have been found during a June 29 pre-inspection: an oversized set of plans that appeared to reflect the structure as it was built. They were found amid a crushed truss and are “unique,” with “handwritten notes that may be of interest to the parties,” a lawyer for Munilla informed all the other lawyers on Aug. 1. There are about 150 pages -- “oversized, dirty … a mess … ripped” and damaged from being out in the elements, the lawyer told judge Bailey. The plans were taken to the MCM trailer and later moved to the lawyer’s law firm’s office. They will be made available, perhaps in digital format, for all parties to review, once NTSB allows the plans to be produced in the litigation.
6) INSURANCE COMPANIES SUE TO LIMIT EXPOSURE
Two of the most prominent defendants in the 16 wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits filed so far are also being sued by their insurers, The Travelers and The Phoenix Insurance Company. The insurers want a judge to rule that the general commercial liability polices taken out by Figg Bridge Engineers and Bolton Perez & Associates do not cover any damages due to the bridge collapse. Those policies’ coverages total $12 million for Figg and $5 million for Bolton Perez.
Instead, the insurers claim, the allegations would be covered by professional services liability policies, which have much lower limits: $5 million for Figg and $1 million for Bolton Perez.
The most significant defendant, the general contractor Munilla Construction Management, has $37 million in liability coverage and $5 million for professional service claims – and none of its insurers has yet sued to limit their exposure on any of those policies, according to federal court records.
As the personal injury cases move forward, the costs are beginning to come into view; $32,500 for tagging and segregating potential evidence from the site; $5,000 to put the materials into containers; $24,000 to remove unwanted debris; perhaps $120,000 a year to store it all. All of that will pale in comparison to what some lawyers estimate could be more than $100 million in damages to the victims and their survivors, when it’s all said and done.