Friday 9 December 2016

Third investigation launched into Berkeley tragedy amid claims balcony was 'sloping'

Published 27/06/2015 | 02:30

The collapsed balcony from which the 13 students fell
The collapsed balcony from which the 13 students fell

A third US investigation has been opened into the Berkeley balcony collapse in which six students died.

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The latest investigation, by the Constructors State License Board (CSLB), follows twin civil and criminal investigations launched by Alameda County District-Attorney Nancy O'Malley.

Niccolai Schuster (right)
Niccolai Schuster (right)
Olivia Burke
Eimear Walsh
Lorcán Miller
Ashley Donohoe
Eoghan Culligan

The probe was opened as an Irish student who attended the 21st birthday party on June 16 when the tragic accident occurred claimed the balcony had been sloping downwards.

San Francisco law firm Rains Lucia Stern (RLS), which is acting for George and Jackie Donohoe, the parents of Ashley Donohoe (21) who died in the accident, have made detailed submissions to Ms O'Malley.

These include claims the balcony was sloping before the collapse - a clear indication of a potential structural problem.

This is included in eye-witness testimony from one of the Irish students, in the US on a J1 student visa, who was at the party when the 13 youngsters fell to the concrete pavement below.

Read more: Kindness of strangers shone ray of light into dark clouds of tragedy

Six students died, five Irish and one Irish-American, while seven were badly injured when the fourth-storey balcony failed and collapsed onto a balcony directly below.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (L) hugs Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States, following a wreath-laying ceremony at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (L) hugs Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States, following a wreath-laying ceremony at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley
The remains of the damaged balcony are removed from the 4th-story apartment building in Berkeley. Photo: Reuters
Workmen examine the damage at the scene of the balcony collapse in Berkeley, California
Injured student Jack Halpin
Police hold up sheets as medical staff take away the bodies of the dead students at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley.
Stunned onlookers at the scene of the tragedy
Visitors lay flowers on a makeshift memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California

St Jude's GAA Club in Dublin has launched a special 'JudesforJack' support appeal for one of the injured youngsters, Jack Halpin (21). Mr Halpin, a talented hurler and footballer who is a UCD student, was hailed as a hero for helping save a friend in the accident.

The latest Alameda submissions also include claims that other residents of the Library Gardens apartments had complained of water-leak problems in the complex as far back as 2010.

RLS said the Alameda County District-Attorney's involvement was both appropriate and warranted.

The Donohoe family particularly welcomed the fact the balcony at the centre of the tragedy will remain in the secure possession of the Berkeley Police Department.

It had been proposed to return the balcony to the Library Gardens building owner, New York-based firm Blackrock.

"It (the Alameda probe) is a step in the right direction. We certainly welcome it. This department has the resources and expertise to conduct this kind of complex investigation. They are also very sensitive to the nature of this tragedy," RLS partner Harry Sterns said.

Conor Flynn
Conor Flynn
Jack Halpin (left)
Hannah Waters (right) was also injured
Niall Murray

Read more: 'I intend to honour those who died by living a happy and fulfilling life'

Ms O'Malley confirmed her office was now conducting the twin investigations after the City of Berkeley formally ended its probe after an engineering report last Tuesday blamed "severe dry rot" for the failure of the timber-supported balcony.

The eight machined wooden beams had all succumbed to dry rot.

Under the twin-track Alameda probes, Ms O'Malley will receive a detailed report by her 60-strong staff on precisely what caused the extensive dry rot and why the waterproofing in the eight-year-old complex failed.

She will then decide what action, if any, results.

But she has the power to order a criminal prosecution, up to an involuntary manslaughter charge.

She can also order a civil action.

Now, a third probe has been launched by the Constructors State License Board (CSLB).

CLSB environmental director David Fogt warned that the Berkeley incident was being taken very seriously.

"We think this is an absolute tragedy and we are on it. This is unacceptable," he said.

Irish Independent

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