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Remembering the Miller Park crane collapse

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It was a Wednesday afternoon. Construction on the new Miller Park was well underway. The Lampson Transi heavy lift crane, nicknamed "Big Blue" had been doing a good job lifting the 400-ton roof sections into place. The 567-foot Big Blue was one of the largest such cranes, requiring a 1,150 ton counter-weight for balance. It was lifting the tenth 400-ton roof section into place, a process that should have been relatively routine, but those previous nine lifts had been conducted in calm weather.

The National Weather Service for July 14th, 1999 had recorded gusts of up to 26 miles per hour and the iron-workers had argued it was too dangerous to continue that day. Rumor was that at least 25 iron-workers had gone home early that day in protest.

The first roof section lift in January was delayed 17 days while they waited for a calm day. The winds at that time were 10 mph. The second lift in March was also delayed because of 20 mph winds.

Yet, despite the earlier caution, this lift was attempted. Evidence suggests the construction company was under pressure to complete the project on time. Big Blue raised the roof section into place while three iron-workers waited in a man-basket underneath to bolt the section into place.

Suddenly, there was a loud metallic screech as steel screamed in protest under the stresses. This was followed by several loud booms, then as if in slow-motion the entire crane started to bend, picking up speed as it came crashing down, smashing a large section of Miller Park and killing the three iron-workers in the manbasket and injuring five others.

Those three workers were Jerome Starr, 52, Jeff Wischer, 40, and William DeGrave, 39 and have since been memorialized in a monument on the Miller Park grounds.

The ill-advised rush to complete the stadium on time resulted in the deaths of three workers, a year delay in the stadium opening, and damages in excess of $100 million dollars.

On Friday, December 1, 2000, a jury found Mitsubishi 97% negligent and Lampson 3%. The jury awarded the widows of the fallen workers $99.2 million dollars and in addition, ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America to pay $94 million in punitive damages.

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