ST. PAUL, Minn. - The family of a worker killed in a construction accident on the site of St. Paul's new Lowertown Ballpark Tuesday said he was an expert excavator in his industry, with nearly 30 years of experience.
A large concrete slab fell and crushed 61-year-old Johnny Valek as he operated heavy equipment on the site of the old Gillette Building, located near the intersection of 5th and Broadway.
Randy Valek says his brother was the top demolition worker on site.
"I had seen him Sunday night and he had some concerns how tough this job was. That it was a real tough job as far as the weight of the concrete. And thickness of walls, it was a real tough job," said Randy Valek.
First responders were called to the scene about 8 a.m., and quickly knew that Valec did not survive the incident. St. Paul Fire Marshall Steve Zaccard says at that point the job turned from one of rescue to a mission of recovery.
"My heart goes out to the family of the worker who was tragically killed during demolition of the Gillette Building in Lowertown earlier today," said Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. "Construction work can be a dangerous job, and so today I am thankful to all the men and women in construction trades who day in and day out work to make our community a better place."
Valek worked for Rachel Contracting, a subcontractor for Ryan Companies, which is the lead contractor on the ballpark project. An employee at Rachel Contracting told KARE 11 they would have no comment on the fatal incident, and referred reporters to Ryan Companies.
"He ran one of their biggest excavators, he was the main guy that tore down the building," said Randy Valek. "He's got 30 years on that type of equipment, very knowledgeable, one of their best operators. He was really proud of what he tore down."
Rachel Contracting was hired to demolish the old Diamond Products/Gillette building to make room for the ballpark. Rachel Contracting has been around since 2006 and has worked on other high profile demolition projects like Brookdale Mall.
KARE looked into the safety records of both Rachel Contracting and Ryan Companies. The Minnesota OHSA inspection records for the last five years show several inspections, but no violations for either company.
Ryan Companies even received a recent OSHA safety award for its work on the federal building near Fort Snelling.
"Our company takes safety very seriously," said Collin Barr, NorthCentral Region President of Ryan Companies. "Our company has one of the best safety records in the industry."
For the time being, the job site has been shut down while the St. Paul Fire Department's Tactical Rescue Team works to recover the victim's body. Fire Marshall Zaccard calls it "a very dangerous scene, treacherous, lots of material on the ground."
OSHA is now investigating to determine what caused the accident and whether any OSHA safety standards were violated.
On Tuesday afternoon the St. Paul Saints, who will play in the new ballpark, released a statement.
"There is profound sadness in the St. Paul Saints organization today after learning about the passing of a worker at the Lowertown site. At this time we want to send out our deepest sympathies to the family who lost a loved one in this tragic accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and our entire community on this heartbreaking day."
Valek expected to retire next year but was most looking forward to his daughter's upcoming wedding. His family issued a statement about his devotion to his job and dedication to those he loved.
"Like everyone else, we want to know more about the event that stole him from us. However, we believe it is better at this time to focus on honoring his legacy, holding each other up as we anxiously await a clearer picture of what took place."
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