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Probe into collapse begins

HOUSTON - Federal officials started their investigation Saturday in the collapse of one of the nation's largest mobile cranes, which toppled at a Houston oil refinery, killing four workers and injuring seven others.

The 30-story-tall crane, capable of lifting 1 million pounds, crashed to the ground Friday at a LyondellBasell refinery in southeast Houston.

Representatives of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration began their formal accident investigation Saturday morning, said David Roznowski, a spokesman for the LyondellBasell refinery. OSHA investigators are working with the refinery, a subcontractor and the project manager.

'It really is too early to say what happened,' Roznowski told The Associated Press on Saturday. 'With the formal incident investigation, that's where we will start to get answers, but it's going to take time. We want to make sure no stone is left unturned and that this kind of thing doesn't happen again.'

The owner of the crane, Deep South Crane & Rigging of Baton Rouge, La., plans to work with the federal investigators looking into what is the latest in a series of fatal accidents involving cranes around the country.

'We will cooperate fully with all investigations that may arise from this tragic incident. We will provide information as we gather and verify it,' company spokeswoman Margaret Landry said in a statement.

Two severely injured workers were still being treated Saturday at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center hospital for injuries that LyondellBasell said were not life threatening. The other injured workers had been released after treatment.

The crane collapsed during maintenance, LyondellBasell officials said. It had not been scheduled to be used for any work until next week, but its engine was idling after it hit the ground, said Jim Roecker, the company's vice president for refining.

'This is a traumatic experience for all of us. We have to focus on the safety and health of our employees,' Roecker said.

The first lawsuit stemming from the collapse was filed in Harris County state district court, the Houston Chronicle reported.

It was filed on behalf of Grant Pasek, a lineman injured when he jumped from an elevated bucket after he saw the crane start to fall. The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order to preserve the scene and evidence relating to the accident, attorney Jim S. Hart told the newspaper.

The refinery has about 3,000 LyondellBasell workers and 1,600 contract workers, Roecker said.

Crane safety has been getting extra scrutiny in recent months because of an alarming number of crane-related deaths in places such as New York, Miami and Las Vegas.

In New York City, two crane accidents since March have killed nine people - a greater number than the total deaths from cranes over the previous decade.