Monday 24 October 2016

Bid by US builder to stall balcony probe is rejected

Berkeley tragedy balcony
Berkeley tragedy balcony

The construction firm which built the US apartment complex at which six students died has failed in its bid to stall the investigation into the tragedy.

Segue Construction took court action to demand that its engineers be allowed accompany investigators from the Alameda County Attorney-General’s office as they examined the balcony from which 13 students fell.

Last night, Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo rejected the request, which he said would be  tantamount “to participating in” the investigation.

The accident on June 16 at the Library Gardens complex in Berkeley, a suburb of San Francisco, left six students dead – five Irish and one American – with seven others badly injured.

READ MORE: Berkeley survivor Clodagh Cogley (21) smiles bravely following tragic balcony crash

One injured student, Clodagh Cogley (21) from Dublin, has used social media to update Irish friends about her progress.

Clodagh, a Trinity College student, admitted she fears she may never walk again.

She broke her spinal cord, a shoulder, a knee and five ribs in the fall. She also suffered two collapsed lungs.

Her latest photos show her smiling and cuddling her black Labrador ‘therapy’ dog.

Clodagh’s family admitted she has been overwhelmed by the support shown to her.

A special fundraiser for the Berkeley balcony victims will take place in The Academy in Dublin on July 23, with tickets priced at €25 from Ticketmaster and usual outlets. All proceeds will go towards the victims and their medical costs.

Nicky Byrne will MC the night and a number of Irish bands and DJs will take to the stage, including Jape, The Fontaines, Dublin Gospel Choir, Jessica Smith, Heroes In Hiding, Knights of Leon, DJ Deece and others.

A City of Berkeley engineering review has indicated that the students were thrown to the concrete pavement when the eight timber support joists of the fourth-storey balcony failed due to severe dry rot.

Three investigations are now under way into the tragedy – civil and criminal probes by Alameda County District-Attorney Nancy O’Malley and another investigation by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB).

That agency oversees more than 300,000 construction contractors in California.

CSLB has admitted it was unaware that the construction firm which developed the Berkeley complex had paid out €23m ($26.5m) in lawsuit settlements in just six years.

Segue had asked a judge to order Ms O’Malley’s team to allow its engineers to be present when they examined the balcony and the dry-rotted timbers.

Ms O’Malley’s 60-strong staff will now determine if the timber used as the balcony joists was ever suitable for such a load-bearing role.

The balcony, included in the Library Gardens plan as a decorative feature, should have been able to take a load of 1,770kg.


The investigation will also focus on whether the critical waterproof membrane was damaged during installation – allowing water to leak around the timbers and triggering dry rot.

The construction firm, which built the Library Gardens complex in 2007, has already had a request to have its officials present for the balcony examination rejected by Ms O’Malley.

The firm had sought an order from an Alameda County judge to reverse Ms O’Malley’s stance.

Ms O’Malley’s office has declined to comment while the investigation is ongoing.

Both Segue and the firm which undertook the waterproofing work, R Bros, stressed that they were co-operating fully with all investigations.

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