Tacoma, WA Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse, Nov 1940


Agent Who Insured Big Bridge for $800,000, Told His Home Office After Collapse, Is Jailed

SEATTLE, Wash., Dec. 3 (AP) – A New York insurance company’s Seattle general agent who didn’t inform his home office until two days after the collapse of the $6,000,000 Great Narrows bridge at Tacoma that he had issued $800,000 worth of insurance on the structure four months earlier was under arrest here Tuesday for grand larceny, accused of having pocketed the $8,000 he received in premiums.

The agent, Hallett R. French, 44, prominent in Seattle social circles, was quoted by Seattle officers as saying he’d have gotten away with the deal if the bridge had stood only a week longer.

“The brokers had notified me that the state considered theb (sic) ridge so safe they were going to reduce the insurance to the amount of the bond issue.” French was quoted by Charles C. Ralls, acting chief criminal prosecutor’s deputy. “They was going to cancel the insurance in force in another week, and take out new insurance.” French’s company, the Merchants Fire Assurance Company of New York, wouldn’t have found him out in that case, because he had enough cash to return to the state the portion of the premiums that would have been required, he said.

But the bridge collapsed on Nov. 7, and two days later a copy of the $800,000 policy French had written in July arrived at the company’s branch office in San Francisco, which immediately notified the home office. There Walter F. Brady, vice-president and secretary, began the investigation that led to French’s arrest.

“Of course, we shall honor the policy and pay off on it.” Brady declared in New York Tuesday. “We will do this despite the fact that, as a conservative company, it is not our custom to handle such a sizable policies. We would not have taken this policy had it been submitted in advance.

“Our loss should not exceed $300,000, which is a relatively small amount of our assets of $17,500,000. Reinsurance brings our loss down to that figure, even if the claim should amount to the full $800,000, which I consider unlikely.”

Following his arrest at his luxurious home in the Broadmoor section of Seattle. French also was questioned about suspected embezzlement of $70,000 in premiums on various other policies which he should have turned over to his company but had not, Prosecutor Ralls said. French said this was wild speculation on the part of Ralls, adding, $20,000 would come a lot closer.”

As company general agent in Seattle, French had full power to act and any commitments he made automatically were binding on his firm.

French said he had deeded the insurance company his home, automobile, all his cash and other belongings. He is head of the Seattle chapter of a national association of fire insurance executives.

Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX 4 Dec 1940