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Caltrans Safety Worker Fired After Bay Bridge Inspection Work Questioned

OAKLAND (CBS/AP) – The California Department of Transportation said Monday it has fired a technician responsible for seismic testing to ensure the safety of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge after an investigation concluded he falsified safety tests on other projects.

Duane Wiles and his supervisor, Brian Liebich, were terminated after The Sacramento Bee reported over the weekend that Wiles was accused of falsifying safety tests for a busy Los Angeles highway bridge and an Oakland freeway sign.

Caltrans said it has reviewed Wiles' work and found no fabrications in his safety testing for the new Bay Bridge. However, a state lawmaker said he would hold a hearing to investigate.

In 2006 and 2007, Wiles tested the structural integrity of 13 buried concrete and steel pilings that hold up the tower for the eastern span of the Bay Bridge, which is scheduled to open in 2013.

In six of the cases, the Bee reported, Wiles' test results showed no significant problems, even though his colleagues found numerous sections of questionable concrete density that needed more scrutiny or repair. Caltrans said no safety tests were fabricated on the Bay Bridge.

KCBS' Bob Melrose Reports:

Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney said the agency began investigating Wiles after the falsified tests were discovered in 2008. Wiles was placed on administrative leave several weeks ago.

"There was an internal investigation that was going on, gathering data," Ney said. "We needed to take that additional time to investigate."

Wiles also did not follow a Caltrans requirement to check that his testing gauge was working properly to ensure its accuracy before testing portions of the bridge's tower foundation, according to the newspaper report.

Ney said the agency has reviewed the tests Wiles conducted on the Bay Bridge and the two other structures and believes all are safe.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, said he was extremely frustrated to hear of the questionable seismic testing.

DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said he planned to hold a hearing of the committee before the end of the year to examine whether the state conducted adequate structural testing on the Bay Bridge and other bridges throughout the state.

"It's very troubling to me that this was allowed to happen," DeSaulnier told The Associated Press on Monday. "It's good knowing that there are redundancies and there have been other tests, but it's the Legislature's responsibility to find out what went wrong."

The Bee reported other department officials expressed concern that Liebich did not take seriously enough allegations that Wiles had falsified reports. A supervisor issued a written reprimand to Wiles in April 2009, accusing him of a "critical and inexcusable breech of ethics," the Bee reported.

A man who answered the phone at a listing for a Duane Wiles hung up Monday after the caller identified herself as an AP reporter. A second telephone message left for Wiles was not immediately returned.

The eastern span of the Bay Bridge partially collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, leading to plans to replace it. Its total cost has escalated from $1.4 billion to $6.3 billion.

Wiles' firing has so far not affected the project's timeline.

Caltrans has said the new span must be built to withstand the strongest anticipated earthquake.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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