Worker dies in accident at Aspen school |

Worker dies in accident at Aspen school

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Paramedics continue CPR on Juan Ruiz, 29, as they transport him from the old Aspen Middle School after a 10-foot-high, cinder-block wall collapsed on him during demoli­tion. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” A Denver man was killed Wednesday morning when a free-standing cinder-block wall toppled onto him at the old Aspen Middle School.

The man, Juan Ruiz, 29, was pronounced dead of massive head injuries at approximately noon at Aspen Valley Hospital, according to a statement from the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office.

The accident was called in to local authorities at 9:20 a.m., by ESA of Denver employees working on asbestos abatement and demolition at the school.

According to Jeff Lumsden, patrol director for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, the man was working alongside his brother on the third floor of the school when the wall fell on him.

Emergency services personnel reportedly performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques at the site of the accident and in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, but to no avail.

Aspen Schools Superintendent Diana Sirko said the wall was “the last free-standing wall to come out in the old locker area” on that floor. She said it was not a weight bearing wall.

The victim was part of a crew working to remove what is believed to be a small amount of asbestos from the old school, which stands right next to a new, replacement school completed last year.

The original plans called for the old school already to have been demolished and replaced by an open playground area. But officials discovered last year that the building contained vermiculite, a naturally occurring mineral that in some cases contains asbestos and has been linked to lung disease. Federal health regulations required that the school district call in professional abatement crews to remove the vermiculite before the building could be demolished.

Sirko said the abatement and demolition project is about one-third complete, and that it is too early to tell if the accident will interfere with completion of the project before school begins for the 2008-2009 year. Work on the old school has been suspended pending an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which was expected to send an investigator to Aspen on Wednesday.

“At this point, we’re just absorbing the tragedy of it,” Sirko said. “And obviously, our hearts and prayers go out to the family of this young man.”

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