Opening still set for summer after worker falls, dies

CHAMPAIGN — A new 13-screen theater in north Champaign is still scheduled to open this summer after a worker's fatal fall earlier this month caused electricians to be pulled off the job last week.

Michael S. Williams, 54, of Cooks Mills died June 14 at Carle Foundation Hospital after falling June 10 at the site of the Carmike 13 Cinemas going up on the west side of North Prospect Avenue.

A spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed that the agency is investigating Mr. Williams' death and safety practices at the job site but declined to discuss the case.

"We will not have any details until the investigation is complete, which by law, OSHA has up to six months to complete," said Scott Allen, regional director for public affairs for the Chicago office of the U.S. Department of Labor.

But two men laid off as a result of the death called the accident preventable.

"There's about 15 people now unemployed because of one man's careless behavior on a construction site," said Ron Smith of Tuscola, an electrician who was working the day Mr. Williams fell. "His safety practices on the job site cost him his life. Our foreman knew he was doing those things ... and would tell him to get a harness on."

Fellow electrician Kevin Bratten, also of Tuscola, called Mr. Williams "a real nice man" but said he disregarded standard safety practices.

"This should have never happened. It's a shame," said Bratten, who discovered the badly injured Mr. Williams within seconds of the fall.

Bratten and Mr. Williams had arrived for work about 15 minutes earlier that Monday morning.

"That day we were working side by side. I went to go bend a pipe. He was walking in the room and I was walking out. He was bringing his tools into the room. When I walked back in, there he laid," said Bratten, an electrician for about 20 years. "It was terrible and I'm still shook up about it and I'm sure I will be for a while."

Bratten and Smith said Mr. Williams had gone up a 25-foot extension ladder to install conduit in a ceiling, and he should have been wearing a safety harness but was not. They estimated he fell from a height of anywhere from 25 to 45 feet.

"He should have been tied off, had a harness on, and there should have been somebody out there supervising him," Bratten said. "He (Mr. Williams) fell about a month before that off of scaffolding. The man told me he cracked three ribs."

Smith said it was laudable that Mr. Williams' family donated his organs but was angry that his colleague hadn't exercised more caution.

"He is not a hero. He is an example of an unsafe worker who has cost guys like me a job, at least temporarily," Smith said. "And it has caused workers to have to take extra safety classes. I should not have had to see him. I'm having nightmares, not sleeping. The victims are more than just Mike."

Both Bratten and Smith were working for employment agencies that supplied their services to electrical subcontractor Henson Electric, based in Lanark in northern Illinois. Owner Bob Henson did not return calls to The News-Gazette seeking comment. Neither did anyone from Twin Shores, the general contractor from Bettendorf, Iowa.

Bratten said he had been working on the theater job about five months and Smith about three months, but both were informed Tuesday that Henson was no longer going to be the electrical contractor.

"The job was getting ready to get rolling," Smith said. "We were going to be going to 50- to 60-hour weeks. The financial loss to me and my family is high."

Bratten said when he first began work on the project, he was told the theater opening was scheduled for July 4. Demolition of the former Beverly Cinemas, an 18-theater complex, began in the latter part of February. The building had been there 17 years.

"It's at least two months behind and now probably farther than that," Bratten guessed of the new state-of-the-art cinemas.

Terrell Mayton, director of marketing for the Columbus, Ga.-based Carmike Cinemas, said the company doesn't put out opening dates while construction is going on.

"We have construction delays all the time. We have a lot of projects going on all over the country," Mayton said, noting there are about 256 Carmike theaters in 36 states, with one opening about every other month.

Mayton confirmed that electricians were pulled from the job, but said other work was going forward.

"The project is moving along really nicely," he said. "We're still hoping to open this summer."

The complex will feature a "Big D" theater that Mayton described as a large-format auditorium with plush, wide leather chairs.

"The screen is over 31/2 stories tall and 80 feet wide. It has an edge-to-edge picture ... with over 30,000 lumens and 34 trillion colors. People have said when they look at this picture, it's like HD on steroids," Mayton said.

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rsp wrote on June 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I've wondered about the workers many times over the summer. From across the street it looked like there was a more than one worker without a harness on.