herald

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Mum photo tribute to girls who died in US balcony disaster

Ashley Donohoe
Ashley Donohoe

A Dublin woman who lost her daughter and niece when a balcony collapsed in the US four years ago has paid a touching tribute to them.

Ashley Donohoe and her cousin Olivia Burke were killed when the fourth-floor balcony of a rented apartment in Berkeley, California, gave way in the early hours of June 16, 2015.

The collapse also claimed the lives of fellow students Eimear Walsh, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eoghan Culligan.

They were attending a 21st birthday party for close friend Aoife Beary, who was seriously injured in the accident.

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

Now Ashley's mother, Jackie Cronin Donohoe, has posted a photo of her daughter, niece and Eimear, along with her other daughter Amanda and herself, on her Facebook page.

It was accompanied by the words: "The best things to hold on to in life are each other."

Scores of people reacted to her post, one saying: "What a beautiful photo. What a terrible loss of lives."

Lawmakers

Another wrote: "What a lovely photo, Jackie, of wonderful young ladies who will never be forgotten. Love to you all."

Ms Cronin Donohoe successfully petitioned US law makers to introduce changes to balcony construction and a review following her daughter and niece's deaths.

She told legislators at the time: "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.

"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 Calif- ornia State Legislature, is the first step to require stronger standards for materials used in building balconies, man- date annual balcony inspections and standardise train- ing 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.

"We can't get Ashley and Olivia back, but if this tragedy can save the life of even one person who steps out on a balcony...

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

An investigation found the balcony collapsed due to rot and decay in the timber.

However, a district attorney said 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.

Other students who were injured in the collapse were Niall Murray, Hannah Waters, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin and Conor Flynn.

Their injuries included a severed spinal cord, shattered knees and elbows, a brain injury, broken limbs, cracked ribs and punctured lungs.

A plaque was unveiled in Berkeley last year to commemorate them and lists all their names.

Ms Beary, who was injured, told an inquiry into the collapse that her birthday would 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-old," she said.

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