MILWAUKEE (WITI/AP) — In a plaza outside the Milwaukee Brewers’ ballpark stands a 12-foot statue. Not one that honors a baseball hero, but one that is dedicated to the workers who built Miller Park, including the three who lost their lives when a huge crane collapsed during construction on this day 15 years ago.
Jeffrey Wischer, William DeGrave and Jerome Starr were killed on July 14, 1999 when their man basket suspended 300 feet in the air was hit by the collapsing crane, called Big Blue.
The crane operator was trying to lift a section of the retractable roof into place when strong winds knocked it down onto the facade of the ballpark under construction. The tragedy set the stadium’s opening date back a year and cost $100 million in repairs.
"This, clearly, was the pinnacle of my career. It was the most significant trial I've ever engaged in," Robert Habush with Habush, Habush & Rottier said.
On the 15th anniversary, Habush talked about the day Big Blue collapsed.
"I think the most important call I got was from Trish Wischer, the day after her husband died, telling me that he had told her that safety was being compromised at the work site, that he had a premonition that he might not survive, and, if anything happened to him, call Bob Habush," Habush said.
Habush successfully represented the widows of the three iron-workers who died as a result of the collapse, and by default, countless others.
"An important message was sent to contractors around the country -- that you don`t play fast and loose with workers` lives," Habush said.
C.J. Papara was 15 at the time of the tragedy, but says his father's 4th Base Sports Bar and Restaurant was a popular sport for those building Miller Park.
"Construction workers still come back here to take a look at the stadium, and take a look at what they built," Papara said.
Papara says he recalls a different mood during the weeks following the fall of the 450-ton section of roof.
"It just kinda made everybody a little bit closer. Everybody was -- it was that much more of a tight-knit group here ... both customers and employees," Papara said.
Papara says within the past couple weeks, two men who were part of the effort to construct Miller Park stopped in to share memories -- both good and bad.