Unclothed Worker Dies After Four-Story Plunge

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2007; Page B05

A naked construction worker fell about four stories to his death early yesterday at the work site for a new downtown museum, D.C. police and fire officials said.

Joseph Oliver, 23, of La Plata was discovered about 6 a.m. in the basement elevator shaft area of the Newseum, which is being built at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, officials said. Authorities said it was unclear why he was naked.

"It appears he may have fallen from the fourth floor because there were clothes and personal belongings on that level," said Assistant Fire Chief Larry Schultz.

Police said foul play does not seem to have been involved, but officials are awaiting a ruling from the D.C. medical examiner's office.

A woman who answered the phone at Oliver's home in La Plata said the family did not wish to comment publicly on his death.

Oliver fell before work on the Newseum site had begun for the day, said Bill Brennan, an executive vice president with Turner Construction Co., which is in charge of the project. Brennan said a co-worker found Oliver unconscious about 6 a.m., but he added that no one reported seeing him fall.

"The body was unclothed, which raised concerns in our mind about what transpired," Brennan said.

Oliver was pronounced dead by the D.C. medical examiner at 8:10 a.m., police said.

He was employed by Otis Elevator Co., a subcontractor installing the Newseum's elevator system, Brennan said.

He said Oliver had worked at the site for several months, and Brennan did not know of him displaying any unusual behavior. Oliver worked a full shift Tuesday, Brennan said.

Construction was suspended yesterday as D.C. police and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated the incident. But Brennan said he does not think the fall was a construction accident.

"We're waiting to see what the police come up with," he said.

The Newseum, a museum dedicated to the news business, is moving to Washington after years of being housed in Rosslyn. The Rosslyn facility closed in 2002 in preparation for the six-level downtown building, which has been under construction for about two years. The museum is scheduled to open this autumn.

Brennan said that apart from yesterday's incident, the project had been moving forward smoothly.

"We've had cuts and scrapes but no significant safety problems on the job," Brennan said.

Staff writer Daniela Deane contributed to this report.

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