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Worker falls to death

Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 22:05

A 39-year-old laborer died instantly after falling 25 feet from a stairwell at the construction site of the new dormitory on March 1. While the accident is still under investigation, work has resumed at the site and, according to University officials, the residence hall is still scheduled to open next fall. Mark Chopelas, a construction worker for William A. Berry & Son and resident of nearby Malden, Mass., died at approximately 8 a.m. Students leaving campus for spring break watched from the Brandeis-Roberts Commuter Rail Station as authorities rushed to save Chopelas.

Hayley Levenson '06 and Glenn Prives '06 were walking toward the commuter rail station at the time of the incident.

"We could hear the sirens and we saw all the workers looking down the road, and when we got to the train station we saw all the ambulances coming and we didn't know what happened," Levenson said.

"It just seemed very odd that so many emergency vehicles would be congregating at that area at that time in the morning," Prives added.

An emergency helicopter was called but quickly cancelled once co-workers became aware of his fate. Chopelas was pronounced dead a short time later at Waltham Hospital.

"When I got home, I was really shocked. I had just assumed that someone got hurt, not that someone was killed. So it was really upsetting," Levenson said.

Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan said he couldn't recall any comparable accident during his 25-year tenure at Brandeis. "To my knowledge, there has never been a parallel incident before," he said.

"This is a terrible tragedy," said Executive Vice President Peter French. "Everybody here is just really shocked about this. We have expressed our condolences to the family."

According to Waltham Police, the accident is still under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Massachusetts State Police. French said OSHA began their investigation within hours of Chopelas' death.

While the accident occurred on University property, French said there are no liability issues for the University. "When you sign a contract for construction, the contractor assumes all liability for the site," he said.

According to French, the construction of the new residence hall, which has yet to be named, will not be affected by this accident. The three-story, 70,000-square-foot dorm has been under construction since October and will house 220 juniors and seniors.

Carly Goteiner '06, who learned of Chopelas' death after returning from break, said she feels a plaque should be put up in memory of the construction worker, who would have turned 40 this month.

"I think something should be done to honor him," she said.

David Passafaro, a vice president at William A. Berry told the Boston Globe on March 3 that the company would meet soon to discuss ways to honor Chopelas' memory.

"We're heartbroken about this accident and the loss of one of our people," he said.

Founded in 1857, William A. Berry has never had an employee die on the job. The company constructed various projects, including buildings at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bentley College, Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School. In addition, the firm built the Shapiro Campus Center.

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