Calls continued to mount Monday for a probe of the Florida Department of Transportation's involvement in the runup to last week's deadly collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University.
- FIU bridge collapse: Project leader called FDOT about 'cracking' seen on bridge
- FIU bridge collapse rescue now a recovery operation
- Officials: 4 dead at site of FIU bridge collapse, 9 hospitalized
While the department initially downplayed its role in the bridge project - pointedly telling reporters "this is not an FDOT project" - recent revelations have shown it played an integral part in the design phase and missed a red flag that the bridge was in jeopardy of collapsing.
FIU officials say that, far from being passive observers, FDOT staffers were members of a panel that approved the selection of the companies that would design and build the bridge.
And FDOT itself has revealed the existence of a voicemail, left on a department staffer's landline by a project engineer, that warned of "cracking" in the bridge. The voicemail was left last Tuesday but not discovered until the staffer returned to his office from a field assignment on Friday, the day after the collapse.
The department is an executive agency under the command of Gov. Rick Scott, and three Democratic gubernatorial candidates are accusing the governor's administration of negligence. One, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, believes the administration could be hiding other relevant information in an attempt to deflect blame for the accident.
"When I'm governor, we're going to have a policy of making sure that people's calls are responded to promptly, and it's the least the people of Florida can expect," Graham said in an interview. "And again, we don't know, and that's why an independent investigation - a totally independent investigation - is going to be necessary."
But the voicemail never inferred the bridge was in danger of collapsing, FDOT spokesman Dick Kane said in a Friday statement, adding "at no point during any of the communications (with FDOT) did FIGG or any member of the FIU design build team ever communicate a life-safety issue." The message was left by W. Denney Pate of FIGG Bridge Engineers, the firm chosen to build the bridge.
On Monday, Gov. Scott continued to downplay his administration's role in the project, even while acknowledging FDOT's involvement.
"It was federal money. It was clearly, FIU picked everybody, but we're going to find out," Scott said. "If DOT was involved in meetings, of course, it's a transportation project, but there's an investigation."
But Graham has sought to frame the missed voicemail as the latest in what she says is a string of incidents highlighting the Scott administration's incompetence.
She pointed to the fallout over another voicemail, left on Scott's cellphone in the hours after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to a South Florida nursing home, warning of sweltering conditions. More than a dozen of the home's residents died before the facility was finally evacuated, and Scott has sought to lay much of the blame for the tragedy at the feet of the nursing home's staff.
"The people of Florida deserve to have a governor that whenever there's a tragedy or emergency that the governor's first response is not 'it's not my fault', that the governor's first response is, 'let's get to the bottom of this'," Graham said.