A 59-year-old construction worker was killed early Sunday when an old railroad bridge he was helping demolish collapsed, causing the man to fall onto the 91 Freeway in Riverside.
The worker — identified by coroner's officials as Okesene Faasalele, a Long Beach resident — was cutting a piece of the bridge in half when it "buckled and twisted under him" shortly after 3:15 a.m., said Caltrans spokeswoman Michelle Profant. Faasalele was pronounced dead about 45 minutes later at a nearby hospital.
Profant said it wasn't clear what caused the bridge to collapse but an investigation would be conducted. Faasalele, part of a contracted crew, was harnessed to the bridge at the time, she said.
No other injuries were reported, said California Highway Patrol Officer Johnie Russell. Profant said the freeway was closed to motorists during the overnight demolition work.
Traffic on the freeway was backed up for miles as crews spent Sunday morning trying to clear the massive bridge section that blocked the eastbound lanes near 14th Street. Motorists were diverted to the 60 and 215 freeways until lanes slowly were reopened in the afternoon.
The demolition was part of a 6-mile-long project to add two carpool lanes to the freeway, Profant said. The bridge was being torn down to allow room for a new, wider bridge that would accommodate the expanded roadway.
There were no initial indications the incident would delay the project, Profant said.
Two weeks ago, a bridge being built across the 15 Freeway in Hesperia burned to the ground, snarling traffic and delaying a major construction project for an estimated six months. One worker was treated for smoke inhalation, but no serious injuries were reported.
The fire was sparked by a worker's blowtorch, Profant said.