6 workers fell from 50-foot-high platform; 4 injured
BELIZE CITY, Fri. Sept. 13, 2019– At about 10:30 this morning, a platform on a scaffold that was 50 feet above the basketball court and bleachers in the Belize City Civic Center collapsed, and six men who were standing on the scaffold as they worked on the ceiling of the Civic Center came crashing to the concrete floor below.
Jesus Contreras, a worker who saw the tragedy unfold in front of him, said that the scene was horrific. He saw an old man known as Roque fall head-first to the floor; which smashed his skull and hurled brain tissue onto the floor, while Orlington Earl Stuart fell on his shoulder first and then hit a railing.
Stuart’s neck and shoulder were fractured.
William “Willie” Savery fell flat on his back, hitting his head and back, while Lucas fell on a seat in a sitting position; he suffered a broken leg.
Charles Hyde, a man of heavy build, fell onto a seat also, and he bounced off and landed flat on the floor. He was motionless.
One of the men fell on his stomach across one of the chairs, causing him to suffer internal injuries.
The two men who died as a result of the fall are Orlington Earl Stuart, 60, of St. Thomas Street, Belize City, and Roque Jimenez, 74, also of Belize City.
The four men who suffered various degrees of injury to different parts of their bodies are Lucas Ortiz, William “Willie” Savery, Patrick Canelo and Charles Hyde.
On our arrival on the scene, the injured men had all been taken to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.
In an interview with us, Jesus Contreras said that they were sealing the roof and covering it with acoustic material to make the Civic Center soundproof, and also, to make the cooling system more efficient.
His uncle had pointed to the scaffolding and told them that it was faulty, that the 2×6-inch lumber supporting the plywood platform on which the men were standing, had “a belly” and needed to be replaced. He said that he doubted his uncle because 15 of the workers had stood on it earlier, and nothing had happened. The remaining workers had dismounted from the platform to take a break, leaving the six men on the platform.
Contreras said that he and his friend went up to the platform again to prove his uncle wrong, and stood on the platform along with the six men, and again, nothing happened.
He and his friend then came down and as they stepped off the ladder to the scaffolding, he heard a loud crack, and the platform came crashing down, hurling the men to the floor below.
Contreras said that the belly on the board supporting the platform had worried his uncle, who had insisted that something needed to be done to fix it when the 15 men were working on it. Even though nothing had happened when he went up to prove his uncle wrong, his uncle had insisted that it would break.
The person who was to fix the scaffold was lazy, said Contreras, and he and his friend tried to fix it, but because of time, they didn’t do very much, said Contreras.
The six men were a part of a work gang that was working with a construction company contracted by Belize Infrastructure Limited (BIL) to improve the sound quality in the center. BIL, in a press release on Friday, said that the company has been working for them for some time, and has been producing good work.
We asked the workers who were on the scene at the time if a safety harness had not been issued for their safety, since they were working at a high altitude. The workers said that the harness gets in their way because they drill overhead.
Another worker said no harness had been given to them.
Another worker told us that he had just entered the bathroom when he heard a loud crash, and when he came out to see what had happened, he saw that the workers had fallen off the scaffolding and saw his brother, Roque Jimenez, seriously injured.
He, along with the other workers, rushed the men to the hospital, but his brother, Roque died. They have been working with the company for about 3 months, he said.
Delphin Garnett, the contractor, in speaking to the media, said that he checked with the doctors on the condition of the four workers and was informed that they were stable, that their injuries were not life-threatening.
Two of them are to be released, and he had met with the family of one of the deceased. He was now going to see the family of the other deceased. He said that the men were very experienced in their job and were very knowledgeable in scaffolding, and that the scaffolding itself did not fall.
Garnett said that the lumber that was used to support the platform should have been able to withstand the load, but it failed and they are trying to find out why.
Orlington Stuart was his personal friend for many years, said Garnett, and he was a meticulous person who pushed to get the job done. He was a very careful person who was a good, experienced construction worker, said Garnett.
The company has lost a valuable worker, said Garnett.
Alec Jones, Stuart’s younger brother, told us that Stuart, would have celebrated his 61stbirthday on Tuesday, September 17. He was a car dealer and a construction worker, and when car sales were slow, Stuart did construction work, he said.
Jones said that Stuart was the father of four children, of which one is dead. He was also the grandfather of 3 children. His son, Orlington Stuart Jr., 5-years-old, who died, was the son of his wife, Leslie Smith Stuart, 29, whom he had murdered in her bedroom on Mopan Street on Good Friday night, 1995.
On Good Friday, April 14, 1995, Orlington Stuart went to the Queen Street Police Station and calmly told police that he had killed his wife. He then sat down on a chair coolly. He was not taken seriously and he was just made to sit, but shortly after, the phone rang and a woman said, “My baby is dead; police, come.”
Thinking it was an infant who had been killed, police went to the address at the corner of Mahogany and Mopan Street, in front of Brown’s Butane, where neighbors had assembled, and when police went into the house, they found a young woman, Leslie Smith Stuart, 29, who was a cosmetologist and had a successful beauty shop, dead on her bed in her room. Her throat had been cut.
She was then taken down after much difficulty by family and friends, who did not want to let her go, and was transported in the police vehicle to the morgue at the Old Belize City Hospital.
Police said that Stuart and Leslie, who was his wife, became involved in an altercation because she had refused to give him money and did not want to go with him to Chetumal, Mexico.
Leslie’s mother, who was at home at the time, said that Orlington asked her daughter for money and when she refused to give it to him, he followed her into her bedroom and closed the door of the bedroom, and the mother heard her daughter scream for help, but was unable to help her.
After a while, Stuart opened the door and walked out, and that was when she saw her daughter on the bed, bleeding from her throat and her chest. She had been stabbed and her throat slashed.
Orlington Stuart was charged with murder, but the charge was reduced to manslaughter and his attorney, Simeon Sampson, argued that during the altercation in the bedroom, no one saw what happened, and that Stuart was defending himself against Smith, who tried to stab him.
Stuart was then given a 5-year jail sentence.