Three workers pulled underwater when beam collapses on lake

BELTON, Texas - A huge support beam collapsed at a lake construction site, dragging three workers underwater. One body was recovered, and divers searched Thursday for the other two men.

Witnesses said the three workers were clipped to the top of the concrete column, about 50 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter, when it collapsed at the bottom Wednesday. The entire structure toppled into waters 40 to 60 feet deep, about 50 feet off the shore of Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

The column was to support a pumping station for a water pipeline.

''Eighty tons of concrete and steel were thrown into the water at impact,'' Bell County Sheriff Dan Smith said.

Divers recovered the body of Crispin Rodriguez, 64, on Wednesday. The two men missing and presumed dead were Jim Bates, 27, and James DePriest, 27.

All three worked for MW Builders Inc., a Leawood, Kan.-based general contractor. Steve Lawson, vice president of the contractor's Texas operations, said he did not yet know the cause of the accident.

After the accident, about a dozen relatives waited anxiously as the county's six-person dive team searched for the workers. Some family members paced back and forth, wiping their tear-stained faces.

''We're dealing with a structure that is heavy, complex and as far as we know unstable,'' Smith said. ''If they are under the structure, we are in an area where we cannot get to them safely.''

The lake is about 55 miles north of Austin. The 28-mile, $35.6 million pipeline is being built to supply water to several water districts including the cities of Georgetown and Round Rock.


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