Witness describes moment when worker plummeted to death at Wilshire Grand hotel

Times staff photographer Mel Melcon was on assignment at the construction site of the Wilshire Grand hotel Thursday when a worker fell from the 53rd floor and died.

At about noon, Melcon took a construction hoist from the 71st floor down to the first floor of the hotel, which will be the West Coast’s tallest building when it is completed. Melcon had taken only five steps off the hoist and was walking toward Wilshire Boulevard when he heard what sounded like “a large bag of cement hitting the ground.”

He and two other workers looked around, but didn’t immediately see anything, Melcon said. Their view was obstructed by a large fence lined with a blue tarp.

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“No one thought it was a body,” Melcon said. “We heard no screams.”

As Melcon and the others walked around the 3-foot-tall fence, he said, they spotted the mangled body of the construction worker.

The worker was wearing an orange vest, which, unlike other vests on the construction site, did not identify the department he was assigned to, Melcon said. The worker’s body lay on the ground near the driver’s side of a white car. His shoes were tossed on the road.

The worker had fallen 53 floors and struck a car driving on the street in front of the construction site, according Margaret Stewart, spokeswoman of the Los Angeles Fire Department. A woman inside the car was not injured, she said.

The worker was an electrician with ASSI, according to Erika Monterroza, a spokeswoman with California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA.

Melcon said the worker didn’t appear to be wearing a tethering harness, although laborers at the site are required to wear the safety devices if they are working near the edge of the building.

After the fatal fall, construction foremen and supervisors gathered outside the building as they tried to account for all of their employees, he said.

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