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Worker Killed At 49ers Santa Clara Stadium Construction Site

SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) -- Construction of the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium in Santa Clara was suspended after a mechanic was killed while working in an elevator shaft at the site on Tuesday, authorities said.

The accident was reported at 6:53 a.m. at the location of what will be Levi's Stadium, the $1.3 billion venue at Centennial Boulevard and Tasman Drive slated to open for the 2014 NFL season and host Super Bowl 50.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health identified the deceased worker as 63-year old Donald White and said he was found dead at the bottom of the shaft after apparently being hit by an elevator counterweight while standing on a ladder. Cal-OSHA investigators indicated they had not yet determined what went wrong in the shaft, which is one of 14 at the stadium site.

White had worked as an elevator mechanic for 43 years and was employed by Schindler Elevator Corp., a subcontractor for the stadium's general contractor, Turner-Devcon. A spokesman for the contractor said construction wouldn't resume on the project until Thursday to allow time for the project's 1,200 employees to grieve the loss of their co-worker; the company planned to make grief counselors available.

White "was such a committed person that he would want us to go on, so we decided on Thursday as a good day," said Robert Rayborn, project co-director with Turner-Devcon.

Rayborn added that workers had not been rushing or logging overtime on the stadium project, which he said is about 40 percent finished and slightly ahead of the construction schedule.

"There's nothing to indicate it was anything more than a normal work day and a terrible accident," Rayborn told reporters.

Greg Siggins, a spokesman for Cal/OSHA, said his agency would determine what - if any - state safety code violations occurred during the accident. Schindler, as White's employer, could be cited and fined anywhere from $7,000 to $70,000 depending on the severity of any violations found, he added. The investigation could take up to six months to complete.

In 2011, Schindler Elevator was fined $18,000 after an apprentice mechanic fell about 20 feet down a shaft in Palo Alto. The worker's broken bones could have been prevented with protective equipment, according to a Cal-OSHA report.

The company said in a statement Tuesday it was committed to the safety of its equipment, its workers and the riding public.

"We will never put a worker in a hazardous situation," the statement read in part.

Word of the death sent a shock wave through the 49ers organization and the city of Santa Clara.

"The 49ers family has lost a teammate today," team officials said in a statement offering condolences to White's family, friends and colleagues.

"We can't describe our sadness. This is such a tragedy," added city spokesman Dan Beerman.

"There's been 1,000 workers a day working at that site for almost a year now, and it's been amazingly safe," he said of the stadium construction work that began in April 2012. "We have very few accidents, especially serious ones."

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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