Report: Operator in fatal Washington crane accident had history of drug use

Friday, November 17th 2006, 8:04 pm
By: News On 6

BELLEVUE, Wash. (AP) The operator of a construction crane that collapsed, struck three buildings and led to a man's death has a history of drug use, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The operator, Warren Taylor Yeakey of Tacoma, is being tested for drugs but results were not yet available, Charles Lemon, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industries, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

According to Pierce County records, Yeakey, 34, pleaded guilty to meth use in 2000 and was sentenced to four months in jail, community service and a drug treatment program. In 1994, he had three meth possession convictions and one for cocaine possession.

The crane was working on a vacant office building in this Seattle suburb when it toppled Thursday night. Yeakey told rescuers he was preparing to shut down when he heard a crack just before the collapse.

Microsoft lawyer Matthew Ammon, 31, was killed. No other victims were found.

Yeakey did not return calls from the newspaper seeking comment. The Associated Press' attempts to reach him Saturday were unsuccessful. Calls to listings under his last name were not returned; there was not a specific listing for his name.

Drug testing is not required of crane operators before they're hired, but his employer said it conducts tests and has a zero-tolerance drug policy. Company officials declined further comment.

``We do drug testing here at the company. We didn't just hire him off the street,'' said Ken Day, vice president of marketing at Yeakey's employer, Ness Cranes Inc. of Seattle.

Yeakey's criminal background would be relevant only if operator error is at least partially responsible for the collapse, or if he did not perform an inspection properly, said Bill Marler, a Seattle layer who sued Ness Cranes and general contractor Pacific Components in a 1994 crane accident that killed two men.

In addition to operator error, investigators are looking into possible structural failure and whether high winds earlier in the week stressed the base of the crane.