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Doctors aren't only people who bury their mistakes

Saturday, August 24, 2002

While everybody at the coroner's office tried to figure out how to perp walk the Dick Corp. for the TV cameras, Walter Pasewicz trembled in a corner of the hearing room.

Walter Pasewicz, right, listens yesterday as Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht discusses his recommendation that homicide charges be filed against Dick Corp., the company hired to put up the framework of the new convention center. Pasewicz worked at the convention center site until the Feb. 12 accident that killed co-worker Paul Corsi. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

Pasewicz worked in high steel until Feb. 12, when he exited the trade aboard a 150-ton truss that fell 90 feet onto co-worker Paul Corsi. Yesterday, Coroner Cyril Wecht recommended homicide charges against Dick Corp., the company hired to put up the framework of the new convention center. Dick indignantly replied that it cares deeply about safety, but entertained no questions about how it managed to bolt together colossal steel trusses without noticing it was using the wrong nuts.

"So much, so fast," Pasewicz said. "I don't really know what to think."

He shook a little. He stuttered. His eyes filled with water. Finally, a guy about half his height and age led him from the room.

Pasewicz has been this way since the day Corsi died. Emotionally gutted, he applied for workers' compensation. His employer of record, the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which oversees the project, turned him down.

"I think they're saying that it's not related to a back and neck injury, which everybody agreed were very minor," said Mike Colarusso, Pasewicz's lawyer. But it's what's atop Pasewicz's neck that received the deepest wound.

Clumps of his hair have vanished. He doesn't sleep. He dropped 20 pounds. In June he tried going back to work.

"Three separate days he went back to the job site and couldn't handle it," Colarusso said. "The doctor will not release him to go back to work."

The day of the accident officials couldn't worry loudly or publicly enough for men like Pasewicz. But when it came to finding some way to make them whole again, the authority's response was that his troubles aren't work-related.

Most legal documents, when publicly presented, come with a warning not to read too much into them. Submitting his 13-page damnation of Dick Corp. yesterday, Wecht warned people against failing to draw further inferences of guilt.

From the ironworkers who somehow managed not to notice they had the wrong equipment to the company they said never told them which nuts should be used to the Sports and Exhibition Authority which delegated safety responsibilities into oblivion, Wecht made clear that there is plenty of shame to share in the death of Paul Corsi.

Who, precisely, has a responsibility for men such as Walter Pasewicz was never addressed in the paperwork that flew across town as various sides accused, defended and counterattacked.

The very footnotes to Wecht's report read like an entry in the Encyclopedia Moronica: The bolts anchoring the trusses to the concrete footers and, thus, to the ground, turned out to be below specifications.

The project called for a No. 10 grade bolt -- the highest possible. The ones the inspectors could see were No. 3 grade. Because previous bolt connections are now buried in concrete, it's impossible to know but, in the words of the report "conceivably every ground connection at every one of the 15 trusses is set and secured with substandard anchor bolts."

Stephen Leeper, executive director of the Sports & Exhibition Authority, dispensed a news release calling the loss of life tragic, Wecht's interpretation of contract law flawed, and said words no one could have imagined necessary when the project began: "The Convention Center is a safe building."

Whether it is a safe place to work is less clear. Walter Pasewicz, who speaks with the voice of a man who's just been asked if he'd like a cigarette before the blindfold is drawn, knows it's not a great place to be formerly employed.

Six months away from the building taking shape at the end of Penn Avenue, Walter Pasewicz lives with the sound of a man dying underneath him.

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