Man killed, wife injured in crane collapse

Thursday, July 24th 2008, 11:19 am
By: News 9

Staff and Wire Reports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A crane collapse killed a man and injured his wife Thursday morning in southwest Oklahoma City.

Wilford Stafford Jr., and his wife, Patsy Stafford, were part of a group of people watching construction of the Grace Assembly of God church, 13300 Straka Farm.

The crane being used to raise the steeple collapsed and fell on the couple's car, authorities said.

The 80-year-old man was sitting in the passenger's seat and was killed in the collapse. His wife, 78, was in the back seat and was taken was taken to the hospital in good condition, authorities said. She was released from the hospital Thursday afternoon.

Grace Assembly of God Pastor Joe Hancock said he was taking photos from the backside of the church when he realized something had gone wrong.

"I looked up and the crane had collapsed," he said.

The crane started to tip when the steeple was about 10 feet off the ground, he said.

He said the couple were longtime church members.

"Just great people," he said. "It's just a huge loss."

Caleb Sellenstein, the church's youth minister, said the crane started to lower the steeple just before the accident.

"And then it just quickened," he said. "The whole boom and the crane just flipped over. It was like a movie. It was like something unreal.

 "I was just standing there in disbelief and panic."

The church construction was on schedule to have the first service held on the 2nd Sunday in October.

The operator of the crane was not injured.

The crane belongs to the Barnhart Crane and Rigging Co.

Jeff Latture, the company's senior vice president, said the company is also investigating.

He said the cause of the accident will likely be a structural failure of the 90-ton crane, some kind of a problem with the ground it was sitting on, or operator error.

"It was at the beginning of a very simple lift, which is somewhat troubling to us and not far into the lift when the crane went over," he said.

Latture said it has been years since the company has had an accident.

The state Labor Department and Occupational Safety and Health Administration were to investigate the accident.

There have been several deadly crane accidents around the country this year, including one in Houston last week that killed four contract workers and injured seven others. Crane-related deaths have also occurred in New York, Miami and Las Vegas.

Cranes in Oklahoma fall under OSHA regulations but operate without any state oversight, Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields said. He said Oklahoma may join other states considering improved regulatory oversight of cranes. Oklahoma is among 35 states that do not require crane operators to be licensed.