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Firm sues after losing crane in Ybor City fire

Last May's large fire in Ybor City destroyed a $478,460 crane belonging to Sunbelt Sales and Rentals Inc.

By ANGELA MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 27, 2001


TAMPA -- After fire swept through five city blocks of an apartment complex under construction in Ybor City last May, the nearly $500,000 crane that construction companies had rented for the job was reduced to a pile of charred metal.

Now, the company that owned the crane wants its money back.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Sunbelt Sales and Rentals Inc. asked to be repaid the cost of its MC 8150 crane. Named in the lawsuit were Camden Development Inc., two construction companies who worked for Camden and Jose Chirino, the man blamed by investigators for causing the fire.

Camden, Texican Construction, J&W Construction and Chirino were all fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in October for various safety rule violations that OSHA officials said directly led to the fire. Specifically, Chirino and the men working for him were not properly trained at forklift operation. Chirino severed an electrical wire with the forklift's prong, sparking one of the worst fires in Tampa history.

The fire destroyed Sunbelt's crane.

Because Tampa fire investigators and OSHA determined that the fire was the fault of Chirino and the companies who hired him and failed to supervise him, Sunbelt believes those companies should pay the $478,460 for its destroyed crane, the lawsuit said. The suit alleges that the defendants were negligent and liable for damage to the crane.

The suit also claims that one of Chirino's employees, not Chirino, was operating the forklift when the wire was severed. An OSHA official said Monday that such a claim has no factual basis, according to investigations by OSHA and Tampa fire investigators.

Sunbelt asks for the cost of the crane, plus interest and court costs.

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