Thursday 17 October 2019

Mum who lost daughter and niece in Berkeley balcony collapse tragedy pays tribute to dead youths with touching Facebook post

From left: Ashley Donohoe, Olivia Burke, Amanda Donohoe, unidentified friend, and Eimear Walsh.
From left: Ashley Donohoe, Olivia Burke, Amanda Donohoe, unidentified friend, and Eimear Walsh.
A worker measures near the remaining wood from an apartment building balcony that collapsed in Berkeley (AP)

Sarah Slater

A mother who lost her daughter and niece during the Berkeley balcony collapse has paid a touching tribute to them.

Ashley Donohoe and her cousin, Olivia Burke, died four years ago after a fourth-floor balcony of a rented apartment in Berkeley, California, collapsed in the early hours of June 16, 2015.

The disaster also claimed the lives of Eimear Walsh, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster, and Eoghan Culligan as they attended the 21st birthday party of close friend Aoife Beary, who was seriously injured in the fall.

All of them were in the US for the summer on J1 student working visas.

Ashley’s mother, Jackie Cronin Donohoe, posted a touching photograph on Facebook of her daughter and niece along with another daughter, Amanda, and their friend Eimear, who also died in the tragedy.

Ms Cronin Donohoe wrote: “The best things to hold onto in life are each other.”

Scores of people reacted to her post, with one saying: “What a beautiful photo. What a terrible loss of lives.” Another added: “What a lovely photo Jackie, of wonderful young ladies, who will never be forgotten. Love to you all.”

READ MORE: Settlement reached in claims following Berkeley balcony collapse

Mrs Cronin Donohoe  successfully petitioned US politicians to introduce changes to regulations around balconies following the tragedy in Berkeley.

At the time she told legislators: “My life was changed forever a year ago when I lost my daughter, Ashley and my niece Olivia when a balcony they were standing on collapsed in Berkeley, California and they and four other students fell to their deaths.

“If you or a loved one rent an apartment with a balcony or have ever been on vacation and stepped out on a balcony to admire the view – you, too, may be in danger as you have no idea if/when that balcony has been properly inspected.

“SB 465, a bill in the California State Legislature, is the first step to require stronger standards for materials used in building balconies, mandate annual balcony inspections, and standardised training for building inspectors.

“It is also the first step to ban secret settlements in lawsuits involving builders and contractors who have been found negligent – as the public has a right to know.

“I created this petition in honour of all those who were injured and those who no longer have a voice.”

An investigation into the incident found that the balcony collapsed due to “rot and decay” in the wood, but a county district attorney said they earlier this year that they will not be filing criminal charges.

Construction industry representatives withdrew their opposition to a new law which will require them to report previous convictions for shoddy work.

The other students who were injured in the balcony collapse included Niall Murray, Hannah Waters, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn. Their injuries at the time included a brain injury, a severed spinal cord, shattered knees and elbows, broken limbs, cracked ribs and punctured lungs.

A plaque was unveiled in Berkeley last year to commemorate them and list all their names. Ms Beary, a Dubliner who survived the collapse, told a public hearing into the horrific balcony collapse back in 2016 that her birthday will forever mark the anniversary of the death of her friends.

"I miss my friends so much. I have known them since we started school together at four years of age," she said.

"We had grown up together, and now my birthday will always be their anniversary.”

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