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Massachusetts Sues over Deadly Big Dig Problems


The Massachusetts attorney general is suing construction giant Bechtel and other companies over a fatal tunnel collapse in the Big Dig project. The civil suit aims to recover millions of dollars in costs related to this latest Big Dig debacle. And a criminal case may follow soon.

NPR's Chris Arnold reports.


CHRIS ARNOLD: One night this past summer, 38-year-old Milena Del Valle was driving with her husband through a Big Dig tunnel on the way to Logan Airport when part of the ceiling came crashing down on top of their car. Her husband survived but she was crushed in the seat next to him.

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said he spent much of the next two weeks down in that tunnel with police and construction crews.

Mr. TOM REILLY (Attorney General, Massachusetts): What I saw disturbed me a great deal. I saw the condition of the car; about 20,000 pounds of concrete came down on that car.

ARNOLD: Reilly says as he learned how the concrete ceiling was held up with bolts and epoxy, and how that system failed, he became convinced that the work, the design, or both, were terribly flawed.

Mr. REILLY: We took down that ceiling. I saw the epoxy bolts. And I saw first hand, I saw the slippage of bolts, the voids and epoxy that is missing from some of the bolts. I can tell you this, what I saw was a crime.


ARNOLD: Today, Attorney General Reilly is filing a civil lawsuit blaming the company Bechtel and its partner firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, as well as a group of contractors for the faulty construction of the tunnel ceiling.

Mr. REILLY: A claim of gross negligence against Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff with particular emphasis on their role as construction manager of this project.

ARNOLD: Reilly is filing a civil suit with the aim of recovering the cost of the ceiling repair, but his office is also presenting evidence to a grand jury and a criminal case my follow. Bechtel had no comments, but has said before that it stands behind the quality of its work and that the company has seen nothing to suggest that its employees did anything wrong.

Meanwhile, a wrongful death suit has also been filed by Del Valle's family members against many of the same companies.

Mr. JEFFREY DENNER (De Valle Family Attorney): We are obviously very happy that the state has stepped up to confirm what we have already believed to be the case in our own lawsuit.

ARNOLD: Jeffrey Denner is a lawyer who represents Milena Del Valle's husband in the wrongful death suit. But that lawsuit doesn't just blame the companies involved in the projects, it also names the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. After the tunnel collapsed, it came to light that the state did not appear to be conducting proper safety inspections that might have detected the ceiling bolt problems.

Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.