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As Big Dig furor builds, victim buried

Published July 16, 2006

BOSTON - All "politics and divisions" should be set aside so the deadly Big Dig highway tunnel complex can be fixed, a pastor said Saturday at a memorial for the woman who was crushed to death when concrete tunnel ceiling panels fell on her car.

"We should pray for the authorities so God could give them wisdom, so God could give them intelligence, so never again will we repeat what happened to our sister Milena," the Rev. Cesar DePaz said during the service at Iglesia Hispana de la Comunidad church for 38-year-old Milena Del Valle.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has taken control of the investigation, amid calls for the resignation of the head of the agency in charge of the Big Dig complex, and the state attorney general is spearheading a criminal investigation.

Del Valle was killed Monday when four of the 3-ton ceiling panels crushed the passenger side of the car being driven by her husband, Angel Del Valle, as they drove east on Interstate 90 to Logan International Airport.

Angel Del Valle, who escaped with minor injuries, said through an interpreter at Saturday's service that he wanted to pray "that no other life go through what he's going through right now."

The $14.6-billion Big Dig buried the old elevated Central Artery that used to slice through the city, replacing it with a series of highway tunnels. Although it's been considered an engineering marvel, the most expensive highway project in U.S. history also has also been plagued by leaks, falling debris, cost overruns, delays and problems linked to faulty construction.

The eastbound and westbound tunnels remained closed Saturday as federal and state investigators examined ceiling bolts that are supposed to hold up the ceiling panels. There's no timetable for reopening.

Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman Matthew Amorello sat in the front row at Saturday's service. Amorello, who left without commenting, is under pressure from Romney and others to resign.

Earlier Saturday, Romney spent more than an hour touring parts of the tunnel system and getting a close-up look at the testing of the bolts. He sounded optimistic about finding an alternative to the concrete slabs.

"The design for a retrofit system is under way and is making good progress. That's very encouraging," the Republican governor said.

[Last modified July 16, 2006, 01:53:12]

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