Florida investigators are reviewing a case involving the collapse of a communication tower in Miami Gardens that claimed the lives of three workers on September 27, 2017. The dead include 31-year-old Sidney, Ohio resident Marcus Goffena, 23-year-old Longwood, Florida resident Brachton Barber, and 35-year-old Tampa, Florida resident Benito Rodriguez. All three men were installing a new television antenna on top of the communication tower for WSVN Channel 7, a Miami Fox affiliate station.
Witnesses who saw the collapse and subsequent flying debris stated that it “sounded like an explosion” as the crane fell to the ground while carrying the workers. A neighbor in the community, Eric Garner, said that he called emergency medical services and stated to WFOR-TV that “You know, that’s all about I can do, and I just prayed for the guys, you know what I mean, the families.” Garner also stated that “It sounded like the winds from the hurricane. When I heard the boom, I saw the debris fly up in the air, and I immediately called 911.”
Local law enforcement pronounced all three men dead at the scene located at 501 N.W. 207th St., Miami Gardens, Florida. The crew was working for Tower King II at the time of the collision replacing equipment on the television tower that has been sending transmission signals since its original installation in 2009. One worker, Brachton Barber, was the son of the Power King II President Kevin Barber of Cedar Hill Texas.
The Community Response
Fox affiliate WSVN owned by Sunbeam Television contracted the company to perform work on the 1032-foot tower communications structure that transmits signals for the Fox affiliate television station and WPLG. A statement released by TV station president and owner Edmund Ansin read “We are saddened by this tragic event. Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of the three men who died. They worked for a company hired by channel 7 to perform work on the tower that was required by the FCC [Federal Communications Commission].”
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Lieutenant Lay Felipe Davis issued a statement immediately after the accident saying “a tower collapsed underneath three guys… [who] fell 300 to 400 feet.” Steve Ellis, an Assistant Chief engineer at Channel 10 WPLG-TV, stated that the Tower King II had performed repairs on numerous occasions in the past for numerous Miami area broadcasters. The engineer stated that the work the men performed was dangerous but that the company had “the highest qualifications.”
Ellis also stated that the men “were removing gear at the top of the tower to install a new TV antenna for channel 7. They were removing this gear, bringing the second piece down, what they call the gin pole listening device collapsed [that sadly took] the life of the three tower workers.”
Almost immediately, the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration began a preliminary investigation into the unexpected collapse of the Miami Gardens communication tower. Since 2012, there have been approximately thirty communication tower construction cases investigated by the federal agency. However, this is not the first time that Tower King II was investigated for safety violations. In 1984, before Barber’s father became the owner of Tower King II, OSHA investigated another fatality where an employee fell more than 1500 feet to his death causing extensive lacerations and dismemberment.
In 2008, the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration cited the company for violating the Powered Industrial Truck Standard that resulted in a formal $250 settlement. Again in 2011, Tower King II was cited $150 fine for another serious violation.
In February 2013, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration) issued a willful citation to Tower King II stating they had violated the 29 CRF 1926.105 – Safety Nets regulation and fined the company a $15,400 penalty. At that time, OSHA approved a settlement agreement in March 2013 reducing the citation down to $5000.
Information on Tower King II website says that the company “built and erected some of the large, heaviest tower structures in North America” and “will work with you to complete your project in a timely, costly manner.”
An Ongoing Problem
The OSHA database on injuries and fatalities associated with communication towers revealed that since 2003, exactly 132 communication tower workers have fallen to their deaths. In 2014, OSHA sent a safety alert to communication tower worker employers stating that there was “an alarming increase in workers deaths” caused by falling and claimed that “Every single one of these tragedies was preventable.” Employers are reminded of federal safety laws that make them responsible for providing each employee access to fall protection systems and appropriate training to ensure their safety on the job.
Two major news outlets ProPublica and PBS Frontline conducted a collaborative investigation on the high incident rates of deaths occurring from communication tower falls and collapses. The investigators concluded that the leading cell phone companies use “a complex web of subcontracting” to “avoid scrutiny” of preventable events that claimed the lives of employees working on communication towers.