Man killed in crane collapse identified

Man killed in crane collapse identified
BELLEVUE, Wash. - A 210-foot construction crane collapsed Thursday evening in downtown Bellevue, striking several buildings and killing a man who lived in an apartment that was hit by the crane.

Bellevue Fire Department Lt. Bruce Kroon said the man's body was found in a fourth floor apartment of the Pinnacle Bell Center Building, which was hit by the falling crane. It appears no other people in the building were injured. A Microsoft Corp. spokesman identified the victim as Matthew Ammon, a 31-year-old intellectual property attorney with the company.

"Although his time here at the company was not a long one- the impression he made was both a deep and lasting one and we will miss him deeply," said Microsoft's VP General Counsel, Brad Smith. "He had an infectious personality. A very warm person who brought a huge amount of enthusiasm to everything he did."

The crane was being operated at the time it fell, and the operator "rode the crane down" nearly 200 feet. He was hurt but reportedly was going to be OK, police spokesman Greg Grannis said.

Firefighters used a ladder to retrieve the operator from about 20 to 30 feet above the ground, but he was able to pull himself out of the cage, Kroon said. He was taken to nearby Overlake Hospital.

He told rescue personnel he was preparing to shut down for the night when he heard a crack and the crane went down, Kroon said.

Cause of the accident remained undetermined, but Fire Chief Mario H. Trevino said it apparently involved "a catastrophic failure" of the crane.

Kroon said the crane operator reported hearing a pop or some noise just before the crane plummeted.

The accident occurred on 108th Avenue Northeast near Northeast 4th Street, a bit north of the Seastar Restaurant, and the crane was blocking 108th Avenue Northeast.

Witnesses said the crane first hit Plaza 305, an office building, then crashed onto the Pinnacle Bell Centre, a 248-unit complex with stores on the ground floor and apartments above, and grazed the side of the Civica Office Commons. Severe structural damage was reported to all three buildings, and a restaurant, the Melting Pot, also was damaged. The crane was working on Tower 33.

Dozens of residents, diners and others were evacuated as firefighters went through the other nearby buildings to check for others who might have been hurt. Traffic remained blocked overnight in the area.

"If this occurred an hour earlier, it could have been a lot worse," Bellevue mayor Grant Degginger said.

Some parts of Plaza 305 were unsafe to enter, two smaller cranes were summoned to stabilize that building, and rescue dogs that searched the building found no one else trapped, Kroon said.

"Until we get the large crane secured, we can't get in there and physically check, but we are pretty sure there's nobody left in any building that we haven't found," he said.

The crane had been anchored in a pit about five stories deep while being used in construction of the 20-story 333 Bellevue Tower. The crane's boom sheared off and fell into the street. Some of it was still on the Civica building Friday morning and the rest was lying on the Plaza 305 building and in the construction pit, Kroon said. Paul Leeper and his wife Linda Rosario were in their apartment in the Pinnacle Bell Center Building directly under the apartment where the man was killed.

Rosario said she was on her computer about three to four feet from the windows in the living room when "I heard this rumbling like thunder, getting louder...

"I covered my head. I stood frozen. I told my husband to throw me my shoes. There was glass all around."

Leeper said he heard a loud rumbling followed by a huge boom.

"I thought it was a plane," he said. "The fourth floor - it was toast. My deck is missing."

The impact lowered their ceiling by a foot.

"I guess it wasn't my time," Rosario said.

Staff at the Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar on the first floor of Civica Office Commons said about 300 diners and 35 employees were hustled to safety.

"It sounded like thunder, two waves, back to back," said Cresta Holdeman, who was waiting on guests in a private dining room.

Ryan Peach, 28, an emergency medical technician working a second job as a waiter at the Melting Pot, said apartment ceilings were collapsed, wires and pipes were hanging and a broken water main left nearly a foot of water in the ground.

More than 100 residents of the Pinnacle complex were displaced due to the extensive damage caused by the collapsed crane. City officials and the Red Cross were working to find temporary housing for those affected.

Three inspectors from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries arrived on scene late Thursday, but the cause of the accident was not immediately known.

The crane was initially reported to be owned by Ness Cranes, but a man who answered the phone at the company's Seattle headquarters Friday morning denied that.

"It's not our crane. We were operating it but it was owned by someone else," he said, refusing to give his name or the name of the company that owned it.

Company executives were in meetings and would not be commenting on the accident, he said.

According to the company's Web site, Ness Cranes "made major strides in upgrading our safety program" last year by designating safety director and offering workers incentive for meeting safety goals.

Ness Cranes was involved in one of the area's most famous crane accidents on Aug. 17, 1994, when two construction workers died in a 250-foot fall during emergency repairs at the Kingdome in Seattle. The top of the crane hit the ceiling and the bucket containing the men came loose, crashing to the floor of the stadium.

The Kingdome was demolished in March 2000.