Reporting Bill Hudson
ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – A construction worker was killed after an accident at the site of the St. Paul Saints’ new ballpark.
The collapse happened near the 300 block of East 5th Street, at the site of the Lowertown Ballpark construction currently underway.
At around 8 a.m. during demolition of the old Gillette factory, a part of the building collapsed on a construction worker with a subcontractor for Ryan Contracting. The worker was operating a backhoe when the collapse happened.
St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said a piece of concrete, roughly 25 feet by 10 feet, fell on the worker and his equipment.
The St. Paul Fire and Police Departments responded to the scene, but the worker was declared dead on site. He was later identified as 61-year-old Johnny Valek of Plymouth, Minn.
According to Valek’s brother, Randy, he was a 30-year veteran in the construction business and was going to retire next year.
“He thought it was very dangerous,” Randy said. “He just had concerns as to how tough the job was and that it was real tough, as far as the weight of the concrete and the thickness of the walls, a real tough job.”
Valek was a veteran heavy equipment operator. His job for Rachel was to tear into that concrete, to bring down the old Gillette manufacturing plant. That’s what he was doing Tuesday morning when a large section of the buildings first and second floors toppled down, crushing Vanek while seated in his cab.
Randy says his brother was looking forward to trading risk for retirement, and the upcoming wedding of his daughter.
“He said he was getting beaten up every day. You sit in that equipment and it gets worked over and it’s hard on you,” Randy said.
Recovery crews worked for hours throughout the day to remove the tons of fallen concrete covering Vanek’s body.
Ryan Contracting was offering grief counseling to family and co-workers.
St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman addressed the public, saddened by what has happened at this city’s future ballpark.
“My heart goes out to the family of the worker who was tragically killed during demolition of the Gillette Building in Lowertown earlier today,” said Coleman. “Construction work can be a dangerous job, and so today I am thankful to all the men and women in construction trades who day in and day out work to make our community a better place.”
The St. Paul Saints also issued a statement extending sympathies to the worker’s family.
This construction site was shut down as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigates.
No one else was hurt in the incident.