The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the death of a 25-year-old sewer worker swept away Wednesday night while working during a heavy downpour in Chicago.
Gustavo Briceno, 25, was killed at about 8:30 p.m. when a torrent of rainwater pushed him down a sewer near North Rockwell Street and North Elston Avenue as he worked on a project to re-line the pipe.
Authorities said he removed his harness to reach a confined space and was carried away by rushing water. His body was found more than two hours later and about 500 feet away from where he disappeared.
As OSHA interviews employees and witnesses, rescuers said Briceno's employer, Kenny Construction, was not able to say why the crew was working in the sewer at the time.
"We never got an answer," Michael Fox, chief of special operations for the Chicago Fire Department, said. "They knew there was a rush of water and torrential rain."
According to OSHA, while Kenny Construction has paid minimal fines in the past 10 years, totaling just over $4,000 for minor violations, three deaths in 11 months haunted the company back in 1996 and 1997.
One incident in Park Ridge crushed and killed a 31-year-old man. Another worker was asphyxiated and a third fell to his death. The three deaths led to fines totaling $175,000. Violations included failure to provide safe access to a tunnel and failure to provide adequate fall protection.
The construction company's reputation has remained intact, though. It became the first general contractor to be awarded the National Safety Council's Green Cross for Safety award and Kenny Construction was called on by former Mayor Richard Daley to plug the leak in the damaging Loop floods of 1992 when water breached old railroad tunnels and flooded high-rise basements.
In a statement, the company said it is "deeply saddened by the loss of one of our co-workers."
"The cause of the incident is not known at this time. We are working cooperatively with authorities on the investigation."