By Paula Ann Solis
Occupational Safety and Health Administration has began investigating the death of Jose Dario Suarez, 55, who died Tuesday night after machinery at the McLane Stadium construction site dragged him 16 feet into the Brazos River, said Lori Fogleman, Baylor’s assistant vice president for media communications.
Suarez was one of two employees for the Derr and Isbell Construction Co. working on a pedestrian bridge that connects the Baylor Law School to the McLane Stadium. The two workers were tethered to a manlift that was on top of a floating construction barge. When the manlift fell off the barge into the Brazos River, it took the two men with it.
Sgt. Patrick Swanton, the public information officer for Waco police, said at a press conference Tuesday evening that one man was able to release himself from the harness without sustaining any major injuries. He was rescued by nearby construction workers and transported to Providence Hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia and has been released.
Houston first-year law student Taylor Giusti said that during a class review session word of the incident spread around campus and students could see the commotion from their classrooms. He said he saw a man pulled out of the river and covered with a blanket by other construction site workers.
The incident occurred at approximately 3:56 p.m. Waco police, along with the Waco Fire Department, Baylor Police Department, East Texas Medical Center EMS and Texas Parks and Wildlife responded to the call for assistance shortly after 4 p.m.
Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens used side sonar search methods to help locate Suarez’s body. Swanton said in a press release that divers from Morgan’s Point Dive Team, located in Belton, recovered Suarez’s body at 8:15 p.m., four hours after he was taken under with the manlift.
Suarez was still attached to the manlift with his safety harness and flotation devices still on him, according to the Waco police press release. Justice of the Peace Kristi DeCluitt arrived on scene at approximately 8 p.m. and pronounced Suarez dead at 8:18 p.m. His body was then taken in for an autopsy.
Waco Police Department Chaplains and Victim Services were outside of Baylor Law School to assist when Suarez’s family arrived on scene.
“Our thoughts go out to the Suarez family at this terribly sad hour,” said Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr in a press release. “All of Baylor Nation extends our deepest sympathies as we remember in our prayers Jose Suarez and all those whom he loved.”
Fogleman said the university is cooperating with OSHA’s investigation in every way possible. Starr sent an email to Baylor student and faculty Wednesday evening, further expressing his regret for Suarez’s death.
“This is a terrible tragedy that saddens us all,” Starr said. “It is at difficult times like these that we are encouraged to remember that we serve a loving God who cares for the brokenhearted and is near to the downcast.”
The cause of the manlift’s fall into the Brazos River remains unknown. The death is being classified as part of an industrial accident, Swanton said.