Man hurt as part of ceiling falls; Accident occurs during renovations at Naval Academy; 'No warning signs'; Worker, 31, suffers injuries to his head, is in serious condition


A 31-year-old construction worker doing renovations on a vacant Naval Academy classroom building suffered head injuries yesterday afternoon when part of a ceiling collapsed and buried him in rubble, academy officials said.

Karen Myers, a Naval Academy spokeswoman, said the man, who works for Hudak Insulation in Baltimore, was standing on the third floor of Sampson Hall at Maryland Avenue and Decatur Road when an 8-foot-by-10-foot slab of concrete ceiling fell near him at 1: 20 p.m. Naval Academy fire officials arrived at the scene within minutes and extricated him from the rubble, and a state police helicopter took him to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, Myers said.

Co-workers at the scene identified the injured man as Sylvester Torres. Hospital officials said Torres remained in serious condition yesterday evening.

Co-workers were on the fourth floor cutting a hole in the third-level ceiling when the accident occurred, Myers said. Naval Academy officials had closed Sampson Hall -- where English, history and humanities classes are held -- for the school year so the four-story gray-brick 1907 building could be renovated.

Torres "knew they were cutting a hole in the ceiling but he thought he was at a safe distance," Myers said. "But more of the floor gave way than what was cut."

George Myers, 25, a Hudak worker who also was on the third level when the accident occurred, said he and Torres were dismantling scaffolding when the ceiling fell.

"There was no warning signs or anything," said Myers, who wasn't hurt. "We were looking right at it when it happened."

Naval Academy Fire Capt. Robert Utz, among the firefighters who arrived at the scene minutes after the accident, said the man suffered a cut on his head, numerous bruises and cuts on his arms, and complained his right elbow and shoulder hurt.

"He was basically in pain and quite a bit dazed," Utz said. "But he did not lose consciousness. He had a possible dislocated shoulder and a compound fracture but we had problems finding out more because he was non-English speaking."

Utz said firefighters communicated with the victim through a translator.

Annapolis firefighters removed the injured man by carrying him down a ladder extended to a third-floor window and took him to Dewey Field, where the state police helicopter waited.

Managers at Hudak Insulation -- a subcontractor of Whiting-Turner, which is handling Sampson Hall's renovations -- did not return phone calls about the incident. Whiting-Turner managers declined to comment.

The Maryland Department of the Environment levied a $15,500 fine against Hudak two years ago for alleged violations from December 1995 to May 1996 at the Fallon Federal Building at Hopkins Plaza in Baltimore. Hudak was accused of endangering workers and federal employees in the building by not requiring removal crews to wear protective clothing and by not wetting asbestos to prevent it from becoming airborne.

The company was given an Immigration and Naturalization Service warning in 1996 after the federal agency arrested 12 Hudak employees who were illegal immigrants. The INS found that Hudak did not know the arrested workers -- who were from Mexico, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala -- could not legally work in the United States, said Barry Tang, assistant director for investigations in the agency's Baltimore district.

Karen Myers said Naval Academy officials will investigate yesterday's accident and file a report with the Navy Facilities and Engineering Commands division in Alexandria, Va.

"They review these types of incidents and decide if they need to take it any further," Myers said.

She added that the division in Virginia will decide whether to report the incident to Maryland Occupational Safety and Health.

Pub Date: 9/10/99

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