MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As the investigation into the collapse of the Florida International University bridge gets underway, community and law enforcement plan to move forward in a cautious, meticulous manner.
“Our primary focus is to remove all of the cars and all of the victims in a dignified manner and not compromise the investigation in the process,” said Miami-Dade County deputy mayor Maurice Kemp.
Kemp said the investigation is vital because they want to make sure that this type of thing does not happen again.
The 950-ton bridge, on SW 8th near 109th Avenue, collapsed just after 2 p.m. on Thursday, crushing several vehicles as it came down.
Six people died in the collapse, five on the scene and one person who was taken to the hospital. Nine others were injured.
Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez confirmed that one of the dead was an FIU student.
Miami-Dade police Director Juan Perez said the decision was made Thursday night to transition from a rescue operation to a recovery operation.
“Our priority is to get to the victims, get to the remains of the people who are underneath that bridge, so that we can take them to a proper place so that their families can have the appropriate burial and ceremonies that they want to have, that last chance and last opportunity to have with their family,” he said.
Perez said his department’s investigation will run parallel to investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Perez added that this is a homicide investigation, but no one should jump to conclusions.
“It’s important that we understand that this is a homicide investigation, that’s all that it is. That means that somebody died. That does not mean that there are criminal charges looming or pending or anything like,” said Perez.
He added that the outcome of their investigation will determine if any charges will be filed.
“We are not there yet. We don’t even know if that is going to lead to that. Right now we just want to find out what occurred, what caused this collapse and people to die, we want to get to the bottom line so we can bring closure to the families, bring closure to the investigation so that this doesn’t happen again,” said Perez.
The director said police chaplains and victim advocates are at the reunification center to offer comfort and support to families who lost loved ones.
Robert Sumwalt, Chairman of the NTSB, said they’ve brought in a 15 person team to investigate the collapse. He said their investigation will be independent of the police department’s investigation.
Sumwalt said their investigation is strictly to determine the cause of the collapse, and not to assign blame, to make sure something like this does not happen in the future.
Sumwalt said his investigators currently do not have immediate access to the crash site. They will once the recovery operation is complete. He said their investigators will be on the scene for the next five to seven days.
During a news conference Friday morning, Perez said that will be part of their investigation.
When asked if collapse happened during a stress test, as had been reported, Perez said he couldn’t confirm that, neither could Kemp.
“We have not confirmed there was a stress test. We heard that question before just as you have but we can not confirm. The key is to not jump to any conclusions,” said Kemp.
Sumwalt was asked if the bridge was allowed to go up without certain precautions being taken.
“That is part of our investigation and that investigation will be thorough and comprehensive and will take awhile but when it is done we will have those answers,” he said.
Construction of the bridge began in the spring of 2017 and was expected to be completed in early 2019.
The bridge was built next to SW 8th Street and last Saturday was lowered into place.
“Saturday was jubilation, Saturday was about hope collaboration doing the right thing,” said Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg. “Yesterday, our hopes collapsed.”
The so-called instant bridge was erected in a single day. Rosenberg says it was the culmination of eight years of planning and the university didn’t take risk.
“This instant bridge technology, which by the way sad irony is that in many ways has been pioneered and studied at Florida International University, at the university transportation center, this technology has been used now for some years successfully. My understanding is that over on the (S.R.) 826/836 exchange there are more than one instant bridges. Clearly something here went wrong,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo.
When it was unveiled the $14 million project was celebrated as a marvel of modern engineering. Now investigators will try to determine what caused it to collapse.