Passenger in crushed car sues crane company - WSMV Channel 4

Passenger in crushed car sues crane company

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John Vargas John Vargas
GALLATIN, TN (WSMV) -

A man who was inside a car when a construction crane collapsed on the vehicle's front end is filing suit against the construction company that operated the crane.

John Vargas was in the passenger's seat on his way back from a fishing trip on May 21 when the crane crushed the front end of his friend's Toyota Corolla as it traveled on Highway 109 in Gallatin.

"I'll sum it up for you real quick: I'm glad to be alive," Vargas told Channel 4.

"We stopped so abruptly that the back end of the car raised up, and slammed back down. That's pretty much what it was. A head-on collision with that crane," he said.

Vargas has filed suit for $1.4 million against Mountain State Contractors, the company hired by TDOT for the $29 million bridge project.

OSHA is investigating and has not yet determined why the crane fell.

According to government safety records, Mountain States and its related companies have had a history of problems at their work sites.

In 2005, a Mountain States worker was killed in a trench collapse in Nashville. In 2010, another worker was killed in Memphis when a hammer fell from a crane. Last year, TDOT temporarily suspended construction projects by Mountain States after two fatalities on its Knoxville bridge project.

The spotty safety record is ammunition Vargas' lawyer Rocky McElhaney has cited in a $1.4 million lawsuit against the company.

"People are dying all over the state," McElhaney said.

"Unless we can change the way Mountain States does business, and make them understand that they need to adhere to the safety rules, the next time a crane falls, it could be on a school bus."

Mountain States declined to be interviewed by Channel 4. The company's representative issued a statement saying, "While the company does not comment on matters in litigation, I can tell you that representatives of the company's insurance carrier tried to be in touch with the plaintiffs, but were told, 'No, I have a lawyer.'"

Vargas says the Gallatin crane collapse left him sore and bruised, and he knows it could have been worse. He was less than a second away from death, he said.

"On a public highway? Out of the sky? You wouldn't imagine something like that hitting you," Vargas said.

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