Third investigation launched into Berkeley tragedy amid claims balcony was 'sloping'
Published 27/06/2015 | 02:30
A third US investigation has been opened into the Berkeley balcony collapse in which six students died.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.