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Construction Worker Dies Weeks Before Retirement In Manhattan Building Collapse

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The scene of the collapse at West 130th Street on March 22, 2012. (credit: Kathryn Brown/CBS 2)

The scene of the collapse at West 130th Street on March 22, 2012. (credit: Kathryn Brown/CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – One of the three workers rescued after being trapped in a building collapse on Thursday at a construction site in Upper Manhattan has died, only weeks before retirement.

In Spanish, the son of 69-year-old Juan Ruiz of the Bronx told CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis about his construction worker father’s concerns.

“He was aware, working as a demolition man, it was very dangerous, and he mentioned that a couple of times,” nephew Frank Ruiz said.

Dozens of rescue crews were called to the scene after part of an old warehouse at Broadway and West 131st Street in Morningside Heights crumbled just before 8 a.m. Thursday, according to the FDNY.

WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane on the story

The two-story building, built back in 1915, was under demolition. It was being torn down as part of the Columbia University expansion project.

Columbia issued a statement, saying “Our hearts go out to the family, friends and co-workers of the construction worker who was killed, and our thoughts remain with the two other workers who were injured.”

“Our preliminary investigation indicates that they cut a structural member, which is a beam, and it led to a partial collapse of a floor,” added Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri.

Firefighters found two of the victims partially buried close together and another completely buried about 50 feet away. Rescuers had to tunnel through the rubble to reach the trapped workers.

“The most difficult removal was in northwest corner,” said FDNY Deputy Chief James Nicholas. “We had a lot of debris.”

1010 WINS Juliet Papa reports

The warehouse had been undergoing demolition work since mid-February, and already had a history of unsafe working conditions, including several safety violations and a two-day stop work order.

Juan Ruiz’s family said he was just trying to hang in there, looking forward to retiring in two weeks.

“As a matter of fact, we were planning to leave like in about a month,” Frank Ruiz said. “Back to the Dominican Republic, and look what happened today.”

Now the project has been shut down until further notice, while the two surviving workers remain in critical and serious condition, respectively, at Saint Luke’s Hospital.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued a statement Thursday, saying he was “greatly concerned” about the collapse.

“The Department of Buildings posted a March 5 building code violation for this structure on its website, relating to a failure to safeguard all persons and property affected by demolition activities, and for demolition without a permit,” Stringer said in the statement. “There was also a complaint today about vibrations and structural stability at the site.”

Stringer called for a full investigation of the collapse by the DOB. Department officials said they’re looking into what caused the deadly accident, adding human error is among many possibilities.

“Now it’s our job to instruct the contractor to continue to remove some of those bricks and debris, bring it down to a safe level so we can continue our investigation and until we feel comfortable, we won’t let them move forward,” LiMandri said.

“It’s very hard. I mean you wake up, you go to work, and you don’t know if you’re going to make it back home,” Frank Ruiz said.

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