Hendersonville – A masonry worker was crushed to death after a 12-foot-high concrete retaining wall his crew was working on collapsed on him and three co-workers, at the Hajoca Corp. parking lot in Hendersonville on Jan. 13.
Marcelino Godofredo Rendon Hernandez, 37, listed as a Henderson County resident, was the fatal victim. Two other workers of Robert Crawford Masonry of Mills River were conscious when flown to Mission Hospital in Asheville by helicopters. The second worker freed from the rubble was flown in a copter from Greenville, SC a half-hour or so later, the next rescued worker was flown in a copter from Spartanburg, SC. Those helicopters were used after it was deemed too unsafe to try to fly Mission’s own MAMA copter in wintry weather.
The very first worker freed from the rubble was taken by ambulance to Pardee then to Mission’s trauma unit, Hendersonville Fire Chief James Miller and City of Hendersonville Communications Mgr. Allison Justus further noted.
The rescue operation began as the other worker in the crew told first responders he got out of the rubble on his own, but his four co-workers were trapped in it. That man was treated on the scene, for minor injuries. Emergency workers viewed security footage and then shined search cameras into the rubble, to confirm how many workers were trapped and where they might be.
The emergency call went out at 9:28 am on that Wednesday morning. Hajoca is a plumbing supply, kitchen and bath showroom. It is at 1027 Spartanburg Hwy. (U.S. 176) — on the south side of the road, across U.S. 176 from First Citizens Bank, and west of Brooklyn Avenue. Traffic in both directions was closed for a few blocks into early afternoon, during the emergency excavation.
The retaining wall separated Hajoca’s lot from the much higher-elevated parking lot of Gosnell Auto Sales next door to the west.
Crew Had Tried to Repair Wall
Emergency workers tried for hours to get to Hernandez while he might still be alive, Hendersonville Fire Chief Miller said. Public works and other machinery were used for excavation, such as to clear dirt to better enable drilling of the wall to try to take it down and out of the way, Miller noted. He said once rescue workers realized Hernandez was dead, they rescued the three injured workers still alive but trapped before retrieving the corpse.
The retaining wall was ten to 12 feet tall and nearly 150 long along the western edge of the Hajoca site, Chief Miller noted. He said the five contract workers were trying to repair the wall, were close together in a trench at the parking lot side of the wall’s base, and were pouring concrete into foundation space between the wall — when the wall collapsed.
The wall suddenly tumbled down. There was much dirt on it, Chief Miller observed. The weight of that dirt is among the likely causes of the collapse. He observed a small pancake-shaped “void” in the wall’s rubble, where the workers were trapped.
A critical factor is the apparent absence of tiebacks to secure the wall, Miller emphasized. A tieback is typically a metal rod inserted horizontally into a wall, to transfer a heavy load into the ground.
Another glaring omission is that the contracting company did not secure a permit for the project, as legally required, according to Henderson County’s attorney, Charles Burrell. He said County Inspections apparently did not receive an application for a permit for the project and definitely did not issue one. An engineering design must be submitted and approved to get the permit, which is required to build or repair any retaining wall higher than four feet. The wall at Hajoca was more than double that height.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), state inspectors and Hendersonville Police are investigating the cause of the accident.
Several fire-rescue and law enforcement units in the area responded to the scene including Buncombe County’s Task Force, along with Cason Builders Supply.