Worker in Atlanta bridge collapse out of hospital

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ATLANTA - Wearing sweat pants and a ball cap, Tony Stovall needed crutches to make his way out of a spinal recovery center Wednesday, almost three weeks after a 40-foot fall from a pedestrian skyway under construction high above the Atlanta Botanical Garden nearly killed him.

The 46-year-old in a body brace and walking boot was the last man to leave The Shepherd Center, a "catastrophic care hospital" that treated a half-dozen victims of the Dec. 19 collapse that killed one construction worker and injured 18 others.

He says he was smoothing out concrete as other workers poured it when he heard someone yell that the walkway was moving, then, "It's going to fall."

"I was up for a minute, then all of a sudden, I was down," said Stovall, who fell, bounced, then landed on steel bars.

Stovall, who doesn't remember coming to Shepherd, said he crawled along the ground as members of his crew plummeted down around him.

"The pain was real sharp. I could only crawl so far, then I had to stop," Stovall said.

Angel Chupin, 66, died when a temporary structure being used in the construction of the new "canopy walk" near the garden's entrance fell.

Others suffered spinal, brain and limb injuries. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the cause of the collapse.

Of the victims treated there, five had spinal injuries and a sixth had a serious brain injury, said Dr. Donald Leslie, the center's medical director.

All were able to eventually walk out of the center, he said.

Stovall's spine was fractured and his fibula - or calf bone - was injured.

"I've seen people fall from 40 feet who were totally paralyzed," Leslie said. "... We're very pleased to say the outcomes have been good."

At the garden, meanwhile, "there currently is no work being done on that particular phase of this project," according to Hardin Construction spokeswoman Barkley Russell. And a fund set up to benefit victims has raised $70,000, she said.

Sitting with his wife of 10 years, Deidre, Stovall said he looked forward to getting home and opening Christmas gifts left under the tree.


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