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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Students and Community Protest Columbia Worker Death

 Scene at W. 131st construction site where one worker was fatally injured and two were hurt badly on Thursday. Photo by Michael Schwartz
Michael Schwartz for New York Daily News
Scene at W. 131st St. construction site where one worker was fatally injured and two were hurt badly on March 22.
THE TRAGIC death of a hardhat who was demolishing a building owned by Columbia University came after the school and its contractors racked up a slew of safety complaints, the Daily News has found.
The Ivy League institution has been hit with 59 code violations and has been forced to shut down work 13 times since launching its controversial campus expansion two years ago, building records show.
The complaints were spread across the 64 properties located on the 17-acre site, which runs from 125th to 133rd Sts., and between 12th Ave. and Broadway.
Workers were flagged for everything from improperly removing fire sprinklers to blocking fire exits and failing to shore up listing walls, the records show.
In fact, as city inspectors picked through the ruins of the warehouse on W. 131st St. where 69-year-old Juan Ruiz was killed Thursday, a tipster warned that a wall on another Columbia-owned building a block away was close to giving way, The News has learned.
Columbia spokeswoman Victoria Benitez declined to discuss the deadly collapse or the prior violations, citing the ongoing Buildings Department probe.
“Their official determination of the facts is an essential step in the process,” she said.
Ruiz — and the two workers who survived the building collapse — were employed by Breeze National, a Brooklyn-based outfit that was headed for years by Luchese crime family associate Toby Romano. Breeze officials say his son now runs the company.
City inspectors suspect the collapse was caused when a worker sliced through a support beam.
Breeze, however, said that horizontal beam was spliced to another beam. And it was the bolts connecting the two pieces that failed.
Ruiz was the second worker to die during construction of Columbia’s new $6.4 billion campus.
Jozef Wilk, a 51-year-old Polish immigrant who also worked for Breeze, fell to his death while demolishing another Columbia-owned building on Broadway.
King Range, 60, and Sakim Kirby, 30, the two workers who survived the collapse that killed Ruiz, were both in stable condition at St. Luke’s Hospital.
Kirby’s dad said his son is in a lot of pain.
“It’s surreal,” he said. “I want to know what happened and who is responsible for what happened to my son.”
From NYDailyNews.com

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