Construction worker dies after falling 53 stories from downtown L.A. high-rise

An electrician in just his second day of work at the downtown Los Angeles Wilshire Grand construction site fell 53 stories to his death Thursday, striking a vehicle and prompting an evacuation of the building.

The man, who was identified Friday as Joseph Sabbatino, 36, of Palmdale, struck the rear of a woman’s car on Wilshire Boulevard around noon, according to Sgt. Barry Montgomery, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman.

UPDATE: Coroner identifies worker who fell >>

Turner Construction, the company that manages the building site, said late Thursday that the worker had no reason to be above the third floor. In a statement, the company said safety protections were not a factor in the fall.

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“We have confirmed with CalOSHA and LAPD that the incident which occurred at the Wilshire Grand project site today was not work-related,” the statement said.

“After an initial on-site investigation, Cal OSHA has confirmed that no fall-protection violations were observed. Our hearts go out to the family of the deceased. We are also sending our deepest sympathies to our loyal and dedicated workers, for whom today’s tragedy is deeply saddening.”

The building project will shut down Friday “to honor our workforce and out of respect,” and counselors would be available to help workers through “this very difficult situation,” the statement said.

Witnesses along Wilshire Boulevard, who said the man did not appear to be wearing a safety harness or hard hat, heard an impact and turned to find the man’s body near the vehicle.

“We asked the driver: 'Did you run this man over?' She said no,” said a construction worker who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity. “That’s when I knew he had fallen off the building.”

The woman in the vehicle was taken to a hospital, said Montgomery, who described her status as stable.

Times staff photographer Mel Melcon was at the construction site on assignment when he heard a loud thump and saw the man’s body lying near the driver’s side of the car.

“It sounded like a bag of cement fell off the edge of the building,” Melcon said.

The man who died had been working on the tower’s 53rd floor, which does not yet have windows. However, the floor is outfitted with an eight-foot-high “integrity fence” — a metal barrier intended to keep construction workers, building materials and tools from falling out of the tower. Safety nets have also been hung to catch falling objects at some of the building’s highest points, but the man fell from a floor below those.

Chris Martin, head of the architectural firm that designed the building, said the construction site was shut down after the man’s death. He said there would have been no reason for him to be doing electrical work that close to the edge of the building.

“We extend our condolences to the family and wish them well ... in a tragic situation,” Martin told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Neither Montgomery nor Martin would say if the man was wearing a safety harness. A spokesman for Cal-OSHA said the man was an employee of Irvine-based ASSI Security. The agency has also launched an investigation into his death.

The man’s death prompted an immediate shutdown and evacuation of the tower, as construction foremen were asked to conduct head counts of the on-site staff. The process took about an hour, said Dave Snodgrass, an operator of a construction elevator.

Martin said the project had a workforce of 891 people this week. No one had suffered a serious injury at the site until Thursday’s incident, he said.

News of the man’s death stunned onlookers who milled around the police tape blocking traffic along stretches of Wilshire and Figueroa Street. Police erected a white tent in the middle of Wilshire next to the woman’s car, which sat idle in the roadway with its passenger door open.

Maurice Lopez, who works outside at the nearby Bonaventure, has watched the building rise slowly over the last two years. He said he was disturbed to hear someone working on the project had died.

“That’s crazy. Usually when you walk by here, you see the guys up there attached to something,” said Lopez, 50, of Los Angeles. “Now I’m gonna feel sick walking by here.”

Reached by telephone Thursday, Michael Willey, owner of ASSI Security, said the company had been notified of the employee's death but was not yet prepared to comment.

Upon completion, the 1,100-foot Wilshire Grand tower will be the tallest structure west of the Mississippi. The $1.2-billion hotel and office project is scheduled to be completed next year.

News of the man’s death shocked workers, who have been on site for almost three years and recently celebrated the tower’s “topping out.”

Some workers said the death recalled bad memories from the Las Vegas construction boom in the early 2000s. Many had worked along the Strip in that time, when 12 workers died in 18 months.

Times staff photographer Mel Melcon contributed to this report.

For breaking news in California, follow VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

March 18, 8:19 a.m.: This article was updated with the name of the worker. 

10:16 p.m.:  This article was updated with an additional comment from Turner Construction.

8:53 p.m.: This article was updated with new comments from Turner Construction.

4:39 p.m.: This article was updated with new comments from witnesses and workers.

3:53 p.m: This article was updated with a statement from Turner Construction.

3:21 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from a news conference.

2:44 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from workers and Cal/OSHA.

2:07 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from workers.

1:54 p.m.: This article was updated with information about activity near the building.

1:43 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the Wilshire Grand building.

1:25 p.m.: This article was updated with new information.

This article was originally published on March 17 at 1:11 p.m.

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