The operator at the controls of the Meridian Street drawbridge at the time of a grisly fatal accident Tuesday has an excellent record of following detailed standard safety protocols when raising the bridge, a city official said Thursday.
“He’s a good employee,” said Joanne Massaro, commissioner of the city’s Public Works Department, which runs the bridge. “He’s had no incidents.’’
“I think he did all he thought he could do to make sure it was a safe opening,” she said.
The operator, Louis Alfieri Jr., a 34-year employee of the city, has consistently adhered to a 20-step procedure that includes activating a warning horn and traffic lights and conducting visual checks for vehicles and pedestrians.
On Tuesday, he raised the bridge to allow a boat to pass on the Chelsea River. An East Boston woman, Aura Garcia, who officials said was on the bridge, apparently fell and was crushed to death when the operator lowered it again after hearing her screams. A witness said she heard a loud foghorn and saw flashing lights before the bridge began to rise.
Massaro said she has spoken with Alfieri since the tragedy and he was devastated. But she said she did not ask him about the accident because he had been interviewed by police.
“He was shocked,” she said. “It was a stressful moment. I don’t know what to say in a situation like that. You could understand the magnitude of the loss for the family. But I’m concerned for his well being.”
Reached by phone Thursday, Alfieri, 60, of Hanover, declined to speak about the incident, saying only that he is not allowed to address the matter without representation from the Service Employees International Union, of which he is a member.
“I’m sorry,’’ he said, before hanging up the phone.
Police are studying footage from surveillance cameras on the bridge in an attempt to determine the sequence of events. They have called the death a terrible accident, but so far have released few details. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also investigating, Massaro said.
Massaro added that her department will wait until both the police and OSHA investigations are completed before determining whether there should be changes to department bridge operating procedures.
The drawbridge operators on the Meridian Street bridge undergo extensive training by a Norwell-based contractor, BEC Electrical Inc., Massaro said.
The training requires that bridge operators follow a series of procedures — 20 steps to ensure the bridge is cleared of pedestrians and vehicles before it is raised. There are a host of other steps guiding the closing of the bridge, anticipating mechanical problems during opening and closing, and troubleshooting.
Among the guidelines for raising the bridge is one stating the operator should push the “zoom” button on cameras to get a close view of traffic at the gates, visually check for vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and to again check approaching pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
If a driver or pedestrian refuses to move after the alarm sounds indicating the bridge is opening, the drawbridge tender is required to call police to remove them, Massaro said.
The bridge operators generally work in pairs in eight-hour shifts. In addition, they do basic maintenance on the structure, Massaro added.
Alfieri was hired by the city in September 1979 and has worked in the bridge division since. He started as a laborer and worked his way to drawbridge tender in 1999, according to Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Garcia’s death has generated shock and disbelief.
In East Boston, residents have been rallying to raise money for the family. Blythe Berents, a member of the neighborhood’s Eagle Hill Civic Association, launched a campaign this week to raise funds to support Garcia’s 16-year-old daughter, Nancy, and 4-year-old son, Daniel.
So far, the crowd-funding campaign on indiegogo.com has raised $3,000, said Berents, who has not met the Garcia family.
She said the money was initially intended to help the family cover funeral costs but will be eventually used to assist the children with food, clothing, and other essential needs.