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worker safety:

Killed crane oiler’s family sues MGM Mirage, others

Updated Wednesday, May 6, 2009 | 7:30 p.m.

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The relatives of a 39-year-old crane oiler killed last year in a construction accident at CityCenter are suing over his death.

Dustin Tarter's May 31 death, which at the time was the sixth in 18 months at the mammoth Strip project, sparked a one-day walkout by his fellow workers over unsafe working conditions.

His story was among those chronicled in a series of Sun articles on the high rate of construction deaths on the Strip that won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

The defendants in the suit include: the project's owner, MGM Mirage; its general contractor, Perini Building Co.; and Dielco Crane Service, the company operating the crane that crushed Tarter to death.

"We believe the practices at the City Center project were shoddy at times and that unrealistic deadlines may have played a part in this," said Tracy Eglet, managing partner of the personal injury law firm of Mainor Eglet Cottle, which filed the suit.

"It appears that profits may have taken a greater priority than worker safety. Mr. Tarter's family has been devastated by his untimely death, as have other families who have lost loved one's on this project."

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said the casino company is not responsible for Tarter's death.

"We believe MGM Mirage should not have been named as a defendant in this lawsuit, and the charges against us will be quickly dismissed," Feldman said. "Our condolences go out to the members of Mr. Tarter’s family as they struggle with this tragic situation."

Last fall, the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Dielco $12,000 for a series of violations, including failing to instruct employees to sound a horn before swinging the crane, a warning that could have prevented Tarter's death.

The suit alleged that the crane was "defective" and "that the horn/warning system failed to perform as expected and was more dangerous than reasonably expected by an ordinary consumer."

Lance Pierce, the Dielco worker the suit said was running the crane at the time of Tarter's death, took control "after willfully consuming or using alcohol or another substance, knowing that he would thereafter operate the crane," the suit alleged. Pierce is also named as a defendant.

In its investigation, OSHA could not substantiate the claim that Pierce had been drinking on the job.

And Dick Dieleman, who runs Dielco Crane, said late Tuesday the allegations against Pierce are false. He said Piece is still running the same crane.

Dieleman said he did not want to comment on the allegations leveled against his company until he has a chance to read the suit.

He said, however, that he considered Tarter a personal friend and the company is "sorry for his loss."

OSHA cited Dielco for failing to properly instruct employees on how to use the crane and failing to follow the manufacturer's guidelines.

The state agency concluded that Tarter was oiling the crane's tracks when the operator rotated the crane, causing the counterweight to drip and crush Tarter.

The lawsuit alleged that MGM Mirage, Perini Building Co. and Dielco all were negligent in their "hiring, training and supervision of employees" on the $8.7 billion CityCenter job site.

The family, including Tarter's mother, Lynda Jackson, is seeking general and punitive damages.

Tarter was born and raised in Boulder City. His father, Richard was a plumber-pipefitter who died in a construction accident in San Diego.

Just three weeks before Tarter died, one of his brother's was killed in a motorcycle accident.

After Tarter's death, his half-brother, Ryan Walters, told the Sun that Tarter was an avid outdoorsman who loved motorcycle riding, boating, hunting and skiing.

"He loved life in general," Walters said.

Jeff German is the Sun’s senior investigative reporter.

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