Jul 29, 2014
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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?

Questions Raised About Cause of Deck Collapse Questions Raised About Cause of Deck Collapse Questions Raised About Cause of Deck Collapse Questions Raised About Cause of Deck Collapse

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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