Pastor Asks for End to Divisions at Funeral for Big Dig Victim

All "politics and divisions" should be set aside so the deadly Big Dig highway tunnel complex can be fixed, a pastor said Saturday at a memorial for the woman who was crushed to death when concrete tunnel ceiling panels fell on her car.

"We should pray for the authorities so God could give them wisdom, so God could give them intelligence, so never again will we repeat what happened to our sister Milena," the Rev. Cesar DePaz said during the service at the Inglesia Hispana de la Comunidad church for 38-year-old Milena Del Valle.

The governor has taken control of the investigation and called for the resignation of the head of the agency in charge of the Big Dig complex. The attorney general is spearheading a state criminal investigation.

"Let's not lose another life like Milena's," DePaz said, speaking in Spanish as his remarks were translated. "Putting aside all politics and divisions, I make a call that the right measures will be taken so that something like this won't happen again."

Del Valle was killed Monday night when four of the 3-ton ceiling panels crushed the passenger side of the car being driven by her husband, Angel Del Valle, as they headed east on Interstate 90 to Logan International Airport.

Angel Del Valle, who escaped with minor injuries, said through an interpreter at Saturday's service that he wanted to pray "that no other life go through what he's going through right now."

The $14.6 billion Big Dig buried the old elevated Central Artery that used to slice through the city, replacing it with a series of highway tunnels. Although it's been considered an engineering marvel, the most expensive highway project in U.S. history also has also been plagued by leaks, falling debris, cost overruns, delays and problems linked to faulty construction.

The eastbound and westbound tunnels remained closed Saturday as federal and state investigators examined ceiling bolts that are supposed to hold up the ceiling panels. There's no timetable for reopening.

Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Chairman Matthew Amorello sat in the front row at Saturday's service. Amorello, who left without commenting, is under pressure from Gov. Mitt Romney and others to resign. Romney took control of the tunnel inspection from Amorello after the Legislature passed an emergency bill on Thursday.

Romney, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino paid their respects and left before the service.

Earlier Saturday, Romney spent more than an hour touring parts of the tunnel system and getting a close-up look at the testing of the bolts. He offered no timetable on when the tunnels would reopen to traffic, but sounded optimistic about finding an alternative to the concrete slabs.

"The design for a retrofit system is underway and is making good progress. That's very encouraging," the Republican governor said.

Attorney General Tom Reilly, who is conducting a criminal probe into the death, also attended the church service.

He also toured the tunnel Saturday and said that 19 of the 20 bolts that held up the section of the ceiling that collapsed have been recovered and secured as evidence. Sixteen were loose, while three were still attached to the ceiling plates, Reilly said.

Some had epoxy on them, some did not, he said. Improper installation of the epoxy could cause the bolts to break free, investigators have said.

The next phase of the investigation is testing of the bolts and the epoxy, Reilly said.

On Friday, Romney said there are 84 potential trouble spots in the eastbound connector tunnel where Milena Del Valle was killed. Two adjoining sections of the tunnel and traffic ramps hold another 278 possible problems, Romney said.

In some cases, inspectors have found ceiling bolts pulled as much as three-eighths of an inch away from the tunnel's concrete ceiling, he said.

Romney has invited engineers to suggest ways to correct the problem, and the Federal Highway Administration, one of several agencies involved in the investigation, has asked a nationwide group of experts for information on similar tunnel ceiling systems elsewhere.