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From the archives: Driver survives crash into concrete slabs that had just fallen onto parkway

This story was originally published in Newsday on July 25, 2004.

Jimmy Godosis lived to tell the story.

"We were like 'Dad, what happened?' " his daughter, Athina Godosis, said yesterday after visiting her father in the intensive care unit of Elmhurst Hospital Center. "He was like, 'A - bridge fell on me.' Then I was happy because he was the same."

Godosis, 46, of Massapequa, was seriously injured but miraculously survived Friday night after his Chevy van slammed into two 30-ton slabs of concrete that had just fallen 14 feet onto the Grand Central Parkway's westbound lanes from the Steinway Street overpass.

He was groggy and under sedation at noon yesterday. Athina Godosis, 21, said the family was awaiting word from doctors on whether more surgery would be needed on his right leg, which could require amputation. Physicians had put metal rods in the leg, which had a compound fracture, and Godosis' head was swathed in bandages.

Godosis - whose given name is Dimitros, but who is known to everyone as Jimmy - was headed to work at his pizzeria, Sutton Pizza & Gyro at 1140 First Ave. in Manhattan, when the freak accident occurred about 9 p.m.

The concrete in question had been the underside of the Steinway Street bridge since the overpass was built in the 1930s, city transportation spokesman Tom Cocola said yesterday. Demolition of the bridge, which no longer met weight requirements, actually was to begin tomorrow.

Cal-Tran Associates Inc., a New Jersey-based company that has a $15.3 million contract to reconstruct the bridge, had cut the concrete into 20 slabs - 10 above the parkway's westbound lanes, and 10 above the eastbound lanes - in preparation for its removal, Cocola said. Each slab was 65 feet long and 3 feet wide; the slabs varied in depth from 1 1/2 to 5 feet.

"The incident is under investigation. We are looking into what happened," David Woloch, the transportation agency's deputy commissioner for external affairs, said yesterday. "We'll have the answers shortly. All the pre-cut slabs are being removed today just to be safe."

After the accident, Godosis was trapped in his crumpled van for about an hour until emergency medical service workers pried him out.

Cranes were brought in to remove the collapsed concrete, and the parkway's four westbound lanes were closed for hours Friday night, causing a monumental traffic backup that stretched several miles to the Clearview Expressway.

Throughout yesterday morning and afternoon, workers labored to remove the remaining concrete slabs. This time around, the parkway's eastbound lanes were closed, and another traffic nightmare ensued, with vehicles backed up nearly 3 miles to the toll booths on the Triborough Bridge.

Cocola said he could not speculate if Friday night's downpour - a torrent of more than 2 inches that nearly broke the record for the date - played any role in the collapse.

The city's "2003 Bridges and Tunnels Annual Condition Report," posted on the DOT's Web site, shows the four-lane Steinway Street bridge was last inspected on Feb. 13, 2002, for the eastbound lanes and Feb. 14, 2002, for the westbound lanes. The bridge was rated in "fair" condition.

The reconstruction project was entering the second of six phases, with demolition of two lanes scheduled to begin tomorrow through next Sunday, and demolition of the other two lanes slated Aug. 2 through Aug. 10, according to the DOT.

It was unclear yesterday what impact the investigation would have on the project's timetable.

For the Godosis family, the fate of the Steinway Street overpass was the last thing they wanted to think about. Athina Godosis, after waiting at the hospital from midnight until dawn, said her father was alert and hungry when she and brother Nick finally were able to see him for about an hour. "He was screaming and happy. He wanted to get up," she said.

The brother and sister were awaiting the arrival of their mother, Georgia, 42, and younger sister, Eleni, who were driving back from Florida after being alerted to the accident. Athina Godosis said her father usually works at the pizzeria - "He's always working," - from 5 p.m. until 1 or 2 a.m.

"I'm just nervous," she said. "I don't want my father to lose his leg."

Pat Dolan, executive vice president of the Queens Civic Congress, a coalition of more than 100 civic groups in the borough, viewed the accident as a byproduct of decrepit roads. "We have so many of these overpasses all over the city - and particularly here in Queens - that really have not been attended to since they were first built," she said.

Cocola could not say how many overpasses over the Grand Central Parkway are the originals dating from its construction in the 1930s.

Staff writer Loretta Chao contributed to this story.

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