Construction worker’s fall from bridge haunts brother

Marcos Rodrigues was saving up and looking forward to moving back to his native Brazil when the construction worker fell to his death from the Sunshine Bridge in St. James Parish on Sunday, his brother says.

Rodrigues, 36, and his younger brother, Marcio Rodrigues, 30, moved to the United States about nine years ago from an Amazonian state in Brazil and worked together in the bridge cleaning and painting industry, Marcio Rodrigues said.

He said they traveled together and lived right next door to each other in Campbell, Ohio, near Youngstown. Marcos helped Marcio renovate his house in Ohio and cherished family, treating Marcio’s 5-year-old son, Bryan, like his own and calling him “Porquinho,” which is “Piggy” in Portuguese.

Marcio is mourning the loss of his brother, who fell 100 feet from scaffolding on the Sunshine Bridge while working for North Star Painting Co. of Youngstown, Ohio, on a state bridge rehabilitation project.

“We’ve always been together, never really liked to be away from each other,” Marcio Rodrigues said in an email Friday. “We’ve been in this same job together. We’ve moved together to the same places. We were truly inseparable.”

The state Department of Transportation and Development hired North Star to paint the Mississippi River bridge as part of a $25.1 million rehabilitation project.

The work includes cleaning and repainting the main truss spans of the metal cantilever bridge, which connects La. 70 over the Mississippi River.

Marcio Rodrigues, who was on the job with his brother but is now back in Ohio, said Marcos recently sold his home in Ohio and was planning to move back to Brazil to be with his girlfriend, Simeia, 36, and his two daughters, Paloma, 13, and Pamela, 9.

“Their family is suffering a lot,” wrote Janniny Da Silva, 21, Marcio’s stepdaughter in Ohio.

“His daughters live with their (the Rodrigues brothers’) parents, and were waiting for his arrival in Brazil, but unfortunately, the way he will arrive will be quite different.”

Da Silva translated and wrote the email to The Advocate for Marcio, who speaks little English.

MaryAnn Dahlgren, administrator for Ascension Funeral Home in Gonzales, said her funeral home is currently working with Rodrigues’ family and the Brazilian Consulate to send his body back to his homeland, probably by the middle of next week.

North Star is paying for the cost, family and company officials said.

Earlier this week, the death halted jobs in which workers were tethered while federal inspectors were on site, but the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cleared North Star to restart operations at about 10:45 a.m. Thursday, said Lauren Lee, DOTD spokeswoman.

Workers could be seen later that afternoon standing and working on metal sheeting underneath the trusses that run below the west bank side of the bridge. The trusses are near where Rodrigues fell to his death Sunday.

Juan Rodriguez, OSHA spokesman, said that agency’s investigation could take a few weeks but no more than six months.

“It is still open and ongoing,” he said.

North Star is also conducting an internal investigation, a company safety official said.

According to OSHA, falls are the No. 1 cause of on-the-job deaths in the construction field. In 2010, 264 of the 774 fatalities in construction, or more than one-third, resulted from falls, an OSHA fact sheet says.

“These deaths are preventable,” the fact sheet adds.

Marcio Rodrigues said his brother never had a problem with his career but thought the Louisiana job was very dangerous and the bridge was too big.

“He was getting really nervous,” Marcio Rodrigues said. “He noticed that this job in particular was lacking organization.”

He said Marcos was stretching cable, went to move scaffolding and the rope got loose when a knot undid itself.

“Then he fell, tried to hold himself on the cable but ended up falling,” Marcio said in the email.

Michael Mihas, safety director for North Star, said North Star has a “100 percent tie-off” policy at all times, meaning workers more than 6 feet in the air are supposed to be tied to safety lines.

He said metal sheeting now under the bridge trusses is designed to catch falling paint. Workers walk on the sheeting, which serves as some protection from falls. But the primary line of defense, Mihas said, are the independent safety lines to which all workers are tied.

Mihas said the loss of Rodrigues, a nine-year employee at North Star who lived five minutes from the company headquarters, has left employees in shock and stunned this happened, a first for the company.

“He was one of our guys. He was a friend of mine. He was a friend of all of ours,” Mihas said.

He said Rodrigues was being groomed to be the company’s next foreman.

Marcio Rodrigues said his brother was not aware of that plan and was frustrated, as he is, because they felt they were not advancing despite doing a lot for North Star.

“He gave his life for the company,” Marcio Rodrigues said.