Worker dies after wall collapses

Firefighters gather outside a construction site owned by Tommy Huang where a collapsed wall killed one worker and injured three. Photo by Ellis Kaplan
By Joe Anuta

A father of three died and three other construction workers were injured after a concrete wall crushed them on a site owned by notorious Flushing developer Thomas Huang in East Elmhurst Monday, a spokeswoman from the city Department of Buildings said.

The four men were pouring concrete into a 64-foot-long-by-18-foot-high cinder block wall at 84-18 Queens Blvd. at 9:35 a.m. when the accident occurred, the spokeswoman said. The project is a five-story apartment complex.

Huberto Sanchez, the 27-year-old father, and a 38-year-old co-worker were standing on the scaffolding when the wall collapsed and were crushed beneath the falling cinder blocks, the Fire Department said. Sanchez went into cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead or arrival at Elmhurst Hospital.

A 39-year-old man and his 48-year-old co-worker were on top of the wall when it disintegrated and sustained trauma and fracture injuries.

.Firefighters arrived on the scene one minute after the 9:35 a.m. 911 call and began the process of extracting the men from the rubble which lasted about half an hour, the spokesman said.

The other three injured workers were taken to Elmhurst Hospital, the spokesman added.

James Demetriou, owner of D&D Glass Co. Inc., which is next door to the lot, made the 911 call and recalled hearing the crash of the falling wall.

“It was horrible,” Demetriou said, visibly shaken even hours after the event. “I wanted to try and help them.”

According to the DOB, the site has incurred six violations since June 2009 — for problems like failing to post proper signage — but none were related to the construction of the wall.

The fatality was the first construction-related death of the year, the spokeswoman said, and the department will conduct an investigation to determine whether omissions in safety protocol contributed to the accident.

Huang, the owner of the property, was convicted of a felony in 1999 for ignoring asbestos contamination and pouring hundreds of gallons of fuel oil in the basement of the historic and landmarked RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing in the 1980s. He was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and sentenced to five years’ probation. Huang also has a laundry list of critics like state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who released a statement in response to the accident.

“Mr. Huang is a poster child for developers who engage in unscrupulous building practices on a repeated basis. Mr. Huang’s unsafe construction practices date back almost 20 years and his projects continue to receive numerous violations for ‘work contrary to approved plans,’ ‘work without a permit,’ ‘failure to maintain the property,’ among many others which often have resulted in destruction of adjoining properties and danger to public safety. Yesterday, a young father of three paid the ultimate price for his dangerous practices,” Avella said in the statement.

Demetriou said that after calling police, he attempted to help free the trapped men.

“The screams and crying,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to know.”

Alexander Andrando opened CitiSleep, a mattress store two doors down, at 10 a.m. and heard the commotion on the street.

“I saw a lot of people screaming,” he said, adding that the ambulance came shortly after.

Another resident said that the whole block was taped off by police when she arrived to work at 10 a.m.

A man familiar with the family said that Sanchez was married and had three children.

According to documents from the city Department of Buildings, H Rock Corp. obtained a permit to build a five-story apartment building on the site in August.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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