A Cal/OSHA inspector speaks with members of the Berkeley Police Department and Berkeley Unified School District during a fatality investigation involving a construction worker at King Middle School on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 27, 2013. Photo: Emilie Raguso

By Emilie Raguso and Tracey Taylor

Update, 5:26 p.m. Brian Bothman, vice president of operations for the Robert A. Bothman Construction company, described his employee who died Tuesday as “a great guy” who had been with the company for 25 years.

“We, all of us, are really saddened by the loss of our friend and a great employee,” he said. “We don’t know any more than anybody else knows at this point. The investigation is on-going. Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of the employee. We will support them in this, and we will continue to support them as long as it’s needed.”

Bothman said he learned of the fatality in a phone call from a safety officer earlier on Tuesday. He said he could not release the man’s name because not all family members have been notified. 

Bothman said his company prides itself on safety: “That’s one of the reasons we get a lot of the work that we get.” The 35-year-old business is based in San Jose. “We’ve never had anything remotely like this, nothing,” said Bothman.

According to OSHA’s database, the company has had only one listed violation since 2003 (the earliest date available); it had something to do with a stairway in a 2009 construction project in Hawaii, and resulted in a $300 fine.

The play area above a slope where a man died while working on a construction project at King Middle School in Berkeley on Tuesday. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Update, 4:25 p.m. Cal/OSHA spokesman Peter Melton said Tuesday afternoon that the construction worker who died at King Middle School earlier in the day was a 62-year-old man from Livermore, but that the agency could not release his name.

The Alameda County coroner’s office said, as of 4:25 p.m., that its staff had just gone out on the call and didn’t have any information to release yet.

Melton said the man was an employee of Robert A. Bothman Construction, which had been working on a project at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. Employees were laying asphalt when a big rig parked on a slope rolled over one of the workers at about 12:45 p.m. and crushed him. There were multiple employees on the scene at the time of the incident, but additional details were not available.

Berkeleyside has left a message with the Bothman company for comment, and will update this story when the call is returned.

Melton said the agency can take up to six months to complete its investigation. When the investigation is done, a report can be made available to the public. The agency enforces worker safety and health standards.

Cal/OSHA inspectors speak with other employees and the business owner during the course of an investigation, which typically includes a review of the company’s safety procedures to find out what they are and whether they were followed.

Berkeley Police officers were on the scene of a fatal construction accident at King Middle School on Tuesday, but Cal/OSHA ultimately took over the investigation. Photo: Emilie Raguso

He said the Bothman company had no listed violations over the past five years, according to a check of a federal database that tracks those investigations.

Melton said he could not confirm whether or not the truck’s brakes failed — which some people on scene earlier had surmised — as that will be part of the in-depth investigation.

These types of investigations can result in a range of violation findings, from a citation to a steep fine. One common finding that the agency often sees, generally speaking, is that a company’s safety procedures either were not adequate or were not followed.

But Melton stressed that is remains much too soon to say anything about what may have led to Tuesday’s fatality.

Original story: A man working on a construction crew at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School track was killed Tuesday at around 12:45 p.m.

According to Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Mark Coplan, the man was run over by a truck.

Preliminary reports suggest the man was working on blacktop with his back to the truck as it came down a hill toward him, Coplan said. It is possible there was a problem with the truck’s brakes, he added. “People were yelling to him but he couldn’t hear them,” Coplan said.

Families, who appeared to be unaware of the fatality behind King Middle School, waited Tuesday afternoon to sign up for class and activity schedules. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The school held its “Welcome Fair” Tuesday for incoming students and families, some of whom were, “unfortunately, very much aware of what happened,” Coplan said.

The accident happened on a driveway that connects the school gym to the track. Some families were on a tour of the school’s gardens, which are located on a hill overlooking the track. They heard construction workers shouting for the victim to watch out, Coplan said.

At around 2:10 p.m., the body of the victim had not been removed from the school. Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said authorities were “in a holding pattern” while they waited for Cal/OSHA (the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health) to determine who would be leading the investigation into the death. Authorities said just before 3 p.m. that Cal/OSHA would be in charge of the investigation.

Construction at the new track at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School (shown here in July) has been ongoing through the summer and is sceduled to be finished later this year. Photo: Camille Baptista

A team from Berkeley’s mental health services department went to the site to talk with, and provide counseling to, construction workers. Coplan said he did not anticipate families who arrived later in the day needing those services.

Renovation work has been ongoing at the track, which has an entrance on Hopkins Street between Josephine Street and Colusa Avenue, all summer. Crews have been replacing irrigation and grass in the field to make the track into an all-weather track. Coplan said the work won’t be complete for at least two months, and that the accident would not affect the school’s schedule. Classes are scheduled to begin Wednesday, Aug. 28.

This story was updated throughout the afternoon as new details emerged.

King Middle School to get new field, all-weather track (07.16.13)

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Berkeleyside staff

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