Tuesday, December 25, 2007

$6 million settlement in Big Dig accident

Angel Del Valle, husband of Milena Del Valle, who was killed when concrete ceiling panels in a Big Dig tunnel collapsed onto her car, wipes tears during a news conference in Boston, in this Aug. 30, 2006 file photo. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki, File)Family of Costa Rican victim still wants more answers about the cause of the accident.

By Rodrique Ngowi

BOSTON (AP) - A company blamed in the deadly ceiling collapse of a Big Dig tunnel last year has agreed to give the family of the woman killed not only $6 million, but something they really want: answers.

Still, representatives of the widower and children of Costa Rican Milena Del Valle said Tuesday the family needs even more information on the series of events, decisions and failures that ultimately caused 26 tons of concrete ceiling panels to come crashing down on her car.

The 39-year-old mother of three was crushed on July 10, 2006, as she and her husband drove through an Interstate 90 connector tunnel. Her husband, Angel Del Valle, escaped with minor injuries.

"The family's primary goal is to get to the bottom of the cause of Milena's death," attorney Bradley M. Henry, who represents the children, said Tuesday. "The family is willing to sit down with any party that is willing to answer their questions about how this tragedy occurred."

Investigators determined that the ceiling collapsed because workers secured it with a fast-drying epoxy that was not safe to use for overhead loads.

On Monday, a Brewster, N.Y., firm that supplied the epoxy agreed to settle a lawsuit filed last year by Del Valle's family, capping weeks of confidential negotiations.

Powers Fasteners Inc., one of 15 Big Dig contractors and agencies sued by the Del Valle family, did not acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement.

Still, company representatives answered a string of questions from the family and their lawyers, describing in detail how the correct type of epoxy was ordered and shipped to Massachusetts for use in the installation of the ceiling panels, Henry said.

"No one can replace our mother, no one can replace Angel's wife — but, to have some of our questions answered about how this tragedy could occur, has great meaning and worth to us," the victim's eldest daughter, Raquel Ibarra Mora, said by e-mail from San Jose, Costa Rica.

"More answers are needed to get to the truth, but the Powers family was willing to take a first step. We can only hope that others, too, step forward and show such character," she said.

Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for Powers Fasteners, said the company was unaware until after the accident that fast-set epoxy had been used for the ceiling panels in the I-90 connector, rather than the standard-set epoxy. She said while the fast-set epoxy was for provided for use on the vertical tunnel wall tiles, it was not appropriate for use on overhead sustained loads.

"The irony is that Powers Fasteners did not know that there was a problem with the epoxy because they assumed that what had been used was the product that was ordered," Schwartzman said.

Powers Fasteners is the only entity to be charged criminally in the case. The company was indicted on a manslaughter charge in August. Prosecutors accuse Powers of failing to warn Big Dig contractors that its fast-drying epoxy glue was unsafe to use to suspend heavy ceiling panels, and had a tendency to slowly pull away over time.

Powers is the first company to settle with the Del Valle family. There are no ongoing negotiations with any other contractor or agency, Henry said.

Associated Press Writer Bob Salsberg in Boston contributed to this report.

Other news: On Dec. 31, It's Official: Boston's Big Dig Will Be Done

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