Memphis company responds after fatal Florida bridge collapse

MIAMI — A pedestrian bridge being built across an eight-lane highway collapsed at a Miami-area college Thursday, crushing eight vehicles under massive slabs and killing multiple people, authorities said.

Search and rescue missions were underway. Ten people ages 20-50 were taken to hospitals, two of them critical, medical officials said. The number of fatalities was not immediately known.

“The main focus is to rescue people.” said Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez. “As soon as those efforts are over, our homicide bureau will take the lead.”

The main companies behind the bridge’s construction have faced questions about their work and one of the companies was fined in 2012 when a 90-ton section of a bridge collapsed in Virginia.

In Miami, the 950-ton, 174-foot span was assembled by the side of the highway and moved into place Saturday to great fanfare. The $14.2 million bridge connected Florida International University and the city of Sweetwater. It was expected to open to foot traffic next year.

WREG has learned that Memphis-based Barnhart Crane & Rigging was involved in moving the bridge, though the company says it was not involved in construction or design.

Barnhart Crane and Rigging released a statement saying they’re “saddened by the news of the tragedy that occurred in Miami with the collapse of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge.  Barnhart was contracted to move the bridge into place and was not involved with the design or construction of the bridge.”

They go on to say, “Our scope of work was completed without incident and according to all technical requirements.  Barnhart crews and equipment were not on site at the time of the incident.  We will fully cooperate with authorities as they investigate the cause of the collapse.  Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragic event.”

Ricardo Dejo, an FIU civil engineering student, told CNN he saw cars pinned beneath the bridge. “I can’t describe it,” Dejo said. “We were really excited about the bridge. Everything looked fine. I went underneath it with my own car and it looked great.”

In a statement, the university said it was “shocked and saddened about the tragic events unfolding at the FIU-Sweetwater pedestrian bridge.”

“At this time we are still involved in rescue efforts and gathering information,” the statement continued. “We are working closely with authorities and first responders on the scene.”

The bridge was just installed Saturday. According to a fact sheet about the bridge on FIU’s website, it cost $14.2 million to build and was funded as part of a $19.4 million grant from the US Department of Transportation.

It was designed to withstand the strength of a Category 5 hurricane, the fact sheet said, and was supposed to last for more than 100 years.

This is a developing story.