O'Donnell Park Tragedy Haunts Father
From JSOnline October 16, 2013:
A man who witnessed the deadly 13-ton concrete panel falling from O'Donnell Park in 2010 and its bloody aftermath said Wednesday the accident had devastated his family and left him feeling guilty, fearful and angry.
Steve Wosinski described a chaotic scene, as he turned around while walking from the O'Donnell parking ramp's Lincoln Memorial Drive exit and saw the 34-foot-long slab twist off its moorings and crash to the pavement.
He saw his son Eric and his 15-year-old friend Jared Kellner in the split seconds before the panel dropped, then ran frantically to his son, Wosinski said in the first day of testimony in a civil trial over who was at fault for the accident.
"I didn't know what was happening at that point," said Wosinski, of East Troy. "I didn't know if the whole (structure) was going to collapse on top of us."
Jared was crushed to death by the panel. Eric Wosinski suffered a double twist fracture of his leg from the force of his own movement to dodge the slab, but was not struck by the panel itself. Amy Wosinski, Steve's wife and Eric's mother, was hit by the slab on her lower leg and later had it amputated below the knee.
Steve Wosinski described running to the aid of his son, then glimpsing Jared's body.
"I lost it at that point," Wosinski said. "I just started screaming, 'Oh, God, please, no.'"
He found his wife lying on the pavement at the opposite end of the slab and spent the next few moments running between his wife and son, trying to comfort them, said Wosinski.
He described recurring nightmares and guilt about how any little change in the events leading to the accident might have prevented the death and injuries. The Wosinski family had agreed at the last minute to include Jared in an outing to the June 24 opening day of Summerfest.
"I blame myself," Wosinski said. "I still do."
He drove and chose the route to downtown Milwaukee, including a slight delay from missing a freeway entrance. He decided to park at the O'Donnell structure, because that's the first place he saw near Summerfest.
Irrational fears of accidents still plague him, Wosinski said. When driving on expressways, he often glances at bridges overhead and worries about whether they'll collapse, he said.
His often emotional testimony dominated the trial Wednesday, with Amy Wosinski and Dawn Kellner, Jared's mother, seated nearby. It followed presentations by lawyers from multiple parties in the case summarizing theories on who was to blame for the tragedy.
Advance Cast Stone used an unapproved shortcut method of hanging many of the massive concrete panels on O'Donnell Park garage - including the one that fell, attorneys for the plaintiffs said in opening statements.
The Random Lake concrete fabricator "is a business that would rather lie to make a buck than to do the job safe," said Allan Foeckler, the lawyer representing the Kellner family.
Advance lawyer Matthew McClean blamed lack of maintenance by Milwaukee County and vehicles hitting or scraping the panel since O'Donnell opened more than 20 years ago.
McClean said the firm had approval for the way the panels were hung, but said no documents were found that show that. Some key players in the O'Donnell construction are deceased and can't tell their stories, McClean noted.
"In some respects, there's a mystery here and you've been asked to solve it," he told jurors.
The firm changed the way the panels were supposed to be hung - with stainless steel pins that were to slide into the underlying concrete wall - to get the job done faster, Foeckler told the jury.
The firm switched to a "drill-and-pound" method of attaching the 13-ton panel and others like it on the east side of the O'Donnell structure to avoid having to wait for grout sealing the connections to dry, Foeckler said.
The 30- to 40-minute wait for the grout to dry was important because that meant costs of using a crane to lift panels in place would be much higher, Foeckler said.
McClean said, however, that the county "did no maintenance and they did no inspection. The county's own policy was waiting for things to fail and then fixing them."
County Executive Chris Abele has been subpoenaed to testify in the case. He's expected to be asked about statements he made in 2011 linking deferred maintenance to the O'Donnell accident.
Abele later said he had misspoken.
At some point during the five-week trial, jurors will be taken by bus to examine the panel that fell and the one that was mounted adjacent to it, Circuit Judge Christopher Foley said. The panels are in storage at a building near Mitchell International Airport, he said.
Foeckler said Jared's parents are seeking $7.5 million in damages, plus an additional unspecified amount in punitive damages against Advance.
The Wosinskis' injuries and loss of time from work added up to more than $800,000, plus $2 million for future earnings lost by Amy Wosinski, their lawyer Timothy Andringa said. She hasn't worked since the accident and needs another surgery, he said.
Foeckler and Andringa dramatized the size of the faulty panel by pacing off its 34-foot length in the courtroom with a tape measure. Foeckler, holding one end of the tape, backed nearly to the outside door to the courtroom.
Its weight matched two elephants or three big pickup trucks, Foeckler said.
The county, which built and owns O'Donnell Park, is blaming Advance Cast Stone for the accident and is seeking $7.1 million to cover costs of repairing the structure and for lost parking revenue.