Questions Raised About Cause of Deck Collapse

Was it the 9,000 lb. forklift in front of the Burlington Coat Factory store at a weak point of the Woodbridge Crossing parking deck?

The investigation into the cause of at Woodbridge Crossing has barely begun, but speculation has already started into what might have caused the collapse.

Some of the questions centered on the forklift that was on the top deck when it crashed into the lower level, and on the white van that was also totaled by the pancaking concrete slab.

"I'm not the engineer of the parking deck, I don't know what each square inch is rated for, but if you wanted to concentrate a lot of weight in one small, specific area, a forklift is the best way to do it," said Philip Pretto, a man who knows his forklifts.

He's the operations manager for EFR Corporation in Somerset, a company that bills itself as "the one stop shop" for all your forklift needs. 

Pretto picked out the forklift in pictures of the collapse as a Yale forklift, with a capacity for carrying up to a 5,000 lb. load. The forklift itself, Pretto said, weighs about 9,000 lbs, and the nearby white van, 4,000 lbs., with no cargo.

Keep trucks off the deck

The builders of the parking deck went to great lengths to keep heavy vehicles off the top of the parking deck.

Drivers who want to head over to the front of the have to pass under a 7 ft. high bright yellow beam that keeps out vehicles higher than that limit. 

The writing on the beam is unmistakeable. It warns that the clearance is 7 ft, and says "No Trucks."

The warning also says that no vehicle with a gross vehicle weight over 8,000 lbs. should be on the deck.

"That beam was put up to keep trucks out, the idea being that the taller the truck was, such as a tractor trailer, the more weight it would carry," Pretto said. "That deck has a weight limit for a very good reason."

Store doesn't hold up deck

An emergency worker who was at the collapse Tuesday said that the upper deck was only tied to the building by thin rebar. He said it wasn't meant to prop the parking deck up, but only to keep the two structures together so that one would not rise above the other.

That was to make the between the upper parking deck and the store level so shoppers would be able to walk without tripping, he said.

There were no parking spaces marked out for passenger cars near the doors to the affected store, the area of the collapse. The parking spaces had been set back so that no large amount of vehicles would be anywhere near the front of the store for any extended period of time.

"From the thickness of the concrete slab, which you can see by the column next to the entrance, there was a reason there was no parking there," Pretto said. "It was to keep anyone with a vehicle or cargo coming close to that weight from going to the front doors.

"They'd be on the first floor in no time."

Column failure?

But Pretto didn't think the forklift crashed through the deck. "It would've made a hole in the floor if that had happened. It's almost as if the columns to the sides failed, and it all fell down in one piece."

Another forklift business owner, Bob, of Central Forklift in Piscataway, agreed that he didn't think the forklift weight alone caused the deck crash. He believes the workers at the site must've known what happened.

"Did [the forklift operators] hit something with the machine? The weight of the machine alone couldn't have caused a collapse," Bob said. "Somebody must've dislodged something somehow. That'd be my two cents.

"I'm sure the guys working on it know what happened. Things like that don't just fall from sky."

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Tom Maras August 24, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Heard John McCormac was on TV12 this A.M. telling folks it was the State's responsibility to inspect the parking deck. While I did not see that airing, I did hear the state is claiming it the townships responsibility. So I guess folks will just have to stay tuned as the politicians and the bureaucrats do the old two-step, like they did over the pedestrian crossing signals in Avenel. Perhaps, if they can be found, the township's inspection records, or the state's, will enlighten everyone as to who did what or not, as the case may be.
Tom Maras August 24, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Question for slyfox. Any idea how the executives at the Burlington Coat Factory are responding to all this publicity? As you may know, with almost $ 4 billion in sales, they are number 83 and rising on the NRF’s 2011 list of top 100 retailers. Burlington Coat Factory became privately owned in 2006 by Bain Capital. In case you do not know who Bain capital is, follow this link for some great insights: https://www.google.com/search?q=Bain+Capital.&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=rcs#q=Bain+Capital.&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=u2w&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=rcs&prmd=imvnsu&source=univ&tbm=nws&tbo=u&sa=X&ei=b503UKnzOOPk6QH1voCoBQ&ved=0CCoQqAI&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=43dae27f5659b6e3&biw=1600&bih=713
Tom Maras August 24, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Just an after thought. While the politicians and bureaucrats sort out who was responsible for inspecting the parking deck, has anyone asked the property owner? Really, what is their legal obligation? What does their insurance carrier have to say? Does it not fall to the property owner to ensure the safety and integrity of their property, at least from a liability standpoint? If a new tenant moves into a commercial building, isn't a new COO required and, if so, what level of inspection must be performed? As an aside, it has taken the township a year or so to do an inspection on an apartment, after a new tenant moved in. Accordingly, one might ask how long it would have taken to inspect the building and property Burlington Coat Factory plans to occupy.
Robert August 26, 2012 at 09:14 PM
For anyone to say that the forklift was the cause has no idea of what he or she is talking about. The deck holds millions of pounds of cars and snow on it every year, and for someone to say that a single forklift was the cause simply does not understand that. A concentrated load of 10,000 lbs would not cause the deck to split and fall. My bet it was water, rust and salts from the past winters that caused the steel inside the cement deck slab to fail. Water and poor construction practice will eventually be found to be the cause.
Tom Maras August 27, 2012 at 11:54 AM
Good points. The entire deck structure, pilings, footings and joints need to be inspected for structural integrity. The property owner would be wise to check the building as well. Let;s hope Burlington Factory demand that level of inspection.


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