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Violations found at site where Durham worker was critically hurt during freak accident

June 28, 2018 GMT

The state’s Department of Labor has found that a steel company is partially at fault for an accident late last year at a Durham construction site that critically injured a worker.

After a months-long investigation, labor department investigators flagged C.P. Buckner Steel Erections, Inc. for violations in connection with the Nov. 8 incident at the construction site, which was located at 400 Morris St.

Jesse Zimmer, 39, was working for Acme Plumbing and Heating Company, which had been contracted by Barnhill Contracting Company.

Zimmer was inside a portable toilet around 3 p.m. when a large, 200-pound metal beam fell from the fifth floor of the construction site, crushing the unit. Zimmer was rushed to a local hospital for medical treatment before ultimately being transported to a specialized treatment center in Atlanta.

He has remained there ever since while family members have held out hope that he would make a full recovery.

“The prognosis right now is not looking real good but, you know, we’re very faithful that God is going to step in and intervene,” said his brother, Jeff. “He’s in God’s hands right now.”

Zimmer’s family said they think the punishment for the company is not harsh enough because Labor Department investigators have recommended a fine of $2,750 for Buckner Steel.

“It’s kind of insulting,” said Jeff Zimmer. “You have a guy who’s working on a job site who goes to the restroom in a port-a-john and has a beam fall on his head.”

The construction site was part of the Durham Innovation District, which will include 1.3 million square feet of parking, retail, office and residential space, according to the project’s website.

The Labor Department opened an investigation into the three companies working at the site after the incident, but only one, Buckner Steel, was cited for infractions, including not erecting proper signage to warn of potential hazards at the construction site.

The company is contesting the Labor Department’s findings, a process that could take several months -- if not years -- before a final resolution is reached.

Based on a search of labor department records, the last violation issued to the steel company, which is based in Graham, was in 2004 for a minor violation.

The family says they have incurred significant financial expenses while traveling back and forth to Atlanta to visit Jesse Zimmer. They say an online fundraising campaign is the only way they’ve been able to continue visiting him.

“He wouldn’t give up on us, (and) we’re not giving up on him,” Jeff Zimmer said.

The relatives said they believe Jesse can understand what they’re saying to him even though the ordeal has taken an emotional toll.

“He’s there. He’s definitely there,” his brother Jeff said. “But with a traumatic brain injury, you have a lot of ups and downs.”

The family said it is considering legal action against the steel company, but they are currently rallying around their mother, who is now also facing her own health challenges.