NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A third inspector likely did not visit the Hard Rock Hotel construction site despite signing off on work at the site, according to FOX 8′s ongoing analysis of GPS data from the City of New Orleans.
FOX 8 has been poring over GPS records from the vehicle fleet for the City of New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits following the Oct. 12 collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel construction site that killed three men. FOX 8 has previously revealed two employees -- Julie Tweeter and Thomas Dwyer -- who signed off on work at the site but GPS data on vehicles believed to be used by them shows the vehicles were not at the site on those dates.
City officials confirm to FOX 8 Tweeter has not been back to work since FOX 8 started reporting on the data and Dwyer retired from the city on February 14. A third inspector signed off on work at the Hard Rock Hotel site on July 26, 2019, but GPS information for the vehicle believed to be used by Eric Treadaway shows he was not near the site that day.
City inspection logs showed Treadaway gave contractors at the Hard Rock site the approval to pour slab on the 14th floor. Instead, GPS data from the city vehicle showed on that July day, Treadaway made a morning stop in Treme, then went to the Westbank, stopping at the University of Holy Cross, his home in Gretna and an Ochsner Clinic -- but not near the Hard Rock Hotel site.
Treadaway submitted his intent to retire from his position hours before FOX 8 aired a report on his vehicle’s GPS data. FOX 8 has also reached out to Treadaway for comment.
Frank Morris, a Louisiana native and inspector with more than forty years of experience in the construction industry and testifies as an expert witness in trials. He said the findings uncovered by FOX 8 are very concerning.
“This is of major significance due to the fact that’s what inspectors are there for to make sure the project is built to code and proper safety is in place,” Morris said.
FOX 8 has uncovered three different inspectors who claimed to have visited the construction site but their vehicle was not close to the site.
“That tells me the whole system needs to be looked at, if ya’ll found that many people that possibly didn’t go out and look at the project," Morris said.
Our analysis also found at least four instances where inspector Julie Tweeter failed to inspect the site, including one July date where her vehicle spent nearly two hours at her home. In August 2019, another inspector, Thomas Dwyer’s city vehicle went to Costco for more than an hour and even though he claimed to inspect the Hard Rock site, his city vehicle never came close to the site that day.
In December, FOX 8′s Lee Zurik interviewed a former construction worker at the Hard Rock Hotel site who described sagging floors and poles meant to support drying slab that were bent.
“I remember one weekend we went up in there and we’re working and we’re knocking the pole shores down and we could tell something was wrong," he said. "Everytime we would knock one down you’d hear another one go -- Boom! Boom! -- And so we stopped and we got a supervisor to go up there. The supervisor came up and when he came up he told us it was a – he told us to stop.
“When you’re beating on the pole shores you can hear – I don’t know how to explain it – like a Boom! Boom! Like as you’re hitting the pole shore with the hammer, it’s twisting and you can hear like ‘Boom!’ ‘Boom!’ --- that’s why we stopped because that was a funny noise, we hadn’t heard that noise.”
The construction worker said he remembered this happened around two months before the deadly collapse, around the same period of time FOX 8 has uncovered several city inspectors may not have visited the site. FOX 8 also revealed that some city inspectors lacked the proper certification to inspect commercial construction sites.
Bryan Cowart signed off on slab and foundation inspections for the Hard Rock site, even though state records show he’s only licensed as a residential inspector.
Morris said the blame does not solely fall on the city employees but with the leadership in the Safety and Permits Department -- including director Zachary Smith.
“It appears very easy for yall to find that they weren’t doing their job. So I find the building official just as responsible as the building inspector,” Morris said.