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Water Eyed in Fatal Balcony Collapse

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

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BERKELEY, CA--Moisture and wood rot are the early suspects in the devastating collapse of an apartment balcony that killed six and injured seven in Berkeley, CA.

Authorities are still trying to determine what caused the collapse June 16, but experts who have reviewed photographs and documents say that water damage and wood rot on the Library Gardens building likely played a role, according to reports.

Balcony collapse
Screenshot via KXTV

The fifth-floor balcony on the 176-unit Library Gardens apartment complex snapped shortly after midnight June 16 during a birthday party, sending 13 students plunging to the street below. Six were killed; seven were injured.

Segue Construction Inc., the company that built the apartment building less than a decade ago, has faced lawsuits in connection with waterproofing and resulting property damage on other jobs, reports relate.

City officials say they are conducting a “thorough investigation” and will announce results when they are complete.

In the meantime, authorities have ordered the removal of a second balcony on the building that also posed a collapse hazard and shut down access to two others.

The Deadly Collapse

The fifth-floor balcony on the 176-unit Library Gardens apartment complex snapped shortly after midnight June 16 during a birthday party, sending 13 students tumbling to the street below.

Six were killed. Five were Irish, and the sixth had Irish-American citizenship, officials said. They have been identified as Olivia Burke, 21; Eoghan Culligan, 21; Niccolai (Nick) Schuster, 21; Lorcan Miller, 21; Eimear Walsh, 21; and Ashely Donohoe, 22.

The surviving victims remained hospitalized Tuesday (June 23) morning with broken bones and “life-altering injuries,” news outlets reported.

Many of the students from Ireland had been studying at the University of California, Berkeley, on J-1 visas.

“We would like to thank everyone in America and Ireland for their sympathy and support, which has been a tremendous comfort to us at this tragic time,” the Irish Consulate said in a statement.

A GoFundMe page was created to help the victims’ families. The page had received $216,881 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Hazardous Balconies

In the days following the collapse, the City of Berkeley inspectors determined a second balcony on the building posed a collapse hazard and ordered it removed. Two other balconies at the property have also been “red-tagged,” prohibiting access while they are inspected, officials note.

The ongoing investigation involves poring over the damaged materials, inspecting the damage from inside the affected unit as well as an up close, and aerial investigation of the building exterior using cranes, according to the city.

The building was completed in January 2007 when it received final approval from the city. Since then, the building has been inspected by the Housing Code Enforcement.

The city has also released a plethora of documents related to the building, zoning and its design.

History of Lawsuits

Since the collapse, reports have emerged that the apartment's builder has been accused of installing faulty balconies on another project just two years ago.

Pleasanton, CA-based Segue Construction reportedly paid $3.5 million to settle a suit over alleged defects in a condominium development in Millbrae, CA, after the homeowners association sued.

In that case, the association said the 109-unit complex had been damaged by water on outdoor spaces, including balconies ranging between two and five stories.


A GoFundMe page was created to help the victims’ families. The page has received more than $216,000 in donations in six days.

Another case related to a San Jose apartment complex involved balconies and water intrusion as well, according to The company said that case settled for $3 million.

‘Too Early to Speculate’

A spokesman for Segue said it was too early to blame the Berkeley collapse on water damage, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“Nobody knows (the cause), and it wouldn’t be right to speculate,” said Sam Singer, a crisis management public relations specialist hired by the construction company.

The company has issued a statement of condolence to the victims' families and loved ones and said it was cooperating with the investigation.

Water Damage Likely

Meanwhile, construction experts have pointed to water damage and dry rot as likely culprits in the incident.

Engineer Ray Kirby, of Childress Engineering Services, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel after reviewing photos of the damage that the balcony had come down due to water infiltrating and rotting the wood at a connection point.

“You can see evidence of moisture streaking down its face,” Kirby said, noting that the balcony beneath also showed moisture issues.

A building-code expert also told the newspaper that moisture penetration was the likely cause.

Building management told members of the media they had never been informed of any potential dangers or weight restrictions regarding the balconies.


Tagged categories: Building envelope; Building Envelope; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Fatalities; Health and safety; Moisture management; Multifamily; North America; Residential Construction; Waterproofing

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/24/2015, 8:20 AM)

Poorly installed EIFS is notorious (and has been for decades) for trapping infiltrated water leading to rot.

Comment from john lienert, (6/24/2015, 8:28 AM)

no reason to expect that berkeley bldg. inspectors (probably only make $100K/yr and UP) would be able to spot something so insignificant as an "in your face" construction problem area such as balcony transitions......berkeley city officials will probably give those responsible for signing off the framing a BONUS.......just sayin'

Comment from peter gibson, (6/24/2015, 3:33 PM)

That is right...take the money and run. They don't care. Just hold out for the big pension.Got caught on this one.

Comment from H. J. BOSWORTH, (6/25/2015, 11:03 AM)

A better detail where water is potentially going to be present would be to use steel to support balconies!! Wood in this detail seems irresponsible....

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/26/2015, 8:13 AM)

Wood rots, steel rusts. You need to keep the water out.

Comment from jim dolan, (6/26/2015, 11:20 AM)

Tom, your comment makes entirely too much sense!

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