Segue Construction, which built Library Gardens near downtown Berkeley, is under increasing pressure to explain how the balcony at the relatively newly built complex snapped and flipped, launching 13 young people five floors onto the street below.
The company has settled two lawsuits in recent years, for a total of $6.5m, both linked to water penetrating through to wood framing of the buildings, including balconies.
City of Berkeley mayor Tom Bates said there was “high probability” this is what led to the balcony collapsing on Tuesday morning.
Attorney Rachel Miller, senior partner of the Miller law firm, said that pictures of the broken balcony in Berkeley were “incredibly similar” to images she had seen from a law suit against Segue Construction. In February 2013, Ms Miller’s firm secured a $3.5m settlement from Segue on behalf of the residents of Park Broadway amid complaints of dry rot under balconies and other allegations.
“It was just like Park Broadway. They were incredibly similar. It was like the same picture with the same brown dry rot and black mould,” Ms Miller told the Irish Examiner.
In a statement issued yesterday, the company said there was no connection between the two projects.
It added: “Segue Construction’s hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the young people who died or were injured in this tragic accident.
“We have offered our assistance and full co-operation to investigating authorities.”
Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller, Eimear Walsh, all 21 and from Ireland, and Ashley Donohue, from California but with a dual US-Irish citizenship, died following the collapse.
The seven survivors are Hannah Waters, Clodagh Cogley, Niall Murray, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin, Conor Flynn and Aoife Beary, all aged between 20 and 22. They had gathered to celebrate Ms Beary’s birthday.
Ms Beary and Ms Waters are still in a critical condition in Highland Hospital in Oakland.
Ms Waters’ brother Marty posted a message on Facebook yesterday.
“Just want to thank everyone for their kind words of support during these though times, it really means a lot,” he wrote.
“I’ve arrived in America to be with my family and more importantly my little sister who is staying strong and battling through, hopefully she can recover as quick as possible.
“My thoughts and condolences are with the families and friends who have lost their loved ones in this tragic accident. Again cheers to everyone for all the messages and support.”
The other five survivors are less seriously injured, though each had to undergo various operations.
For the families of those who died, it was finally time yesterday afternoon to collect the bodies of their loved ones.
The Alameda County Coroner’s office released four of the bodies to Duggan’s funeral directors of San Francisco, which is handling arrangements for them ahead of the return to Ireland.
The bodies of two of the deceased, Olivia Burke and her cousin Ashley Donohue, were taken to Ms Donohue’s home town of Rohnert Park north of San Francisco.
The funeral for both will take place at 10am on Saturday. Members of both families will then travel to Ireland for Ms Burke’s burial.
Relatives of all the victims are working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Aer Lingus to work out plans for the return of their loved ones.
President Michael D Higgins yesterday signed a book of condolence in Dublin’s Mansion House yesterday and tried to put in words the emotions being felt. “I think the fact that so many young people were lost in a single terrible event has deeply affected people,” said President Higgins.
“Many, I noted, in their comments were almost unable to speak at the enormity of the tragedy, that it is of young people seeking adventure, the spring of a new life, what a terrible impact it must be on their families.”
US ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley has written an open letter to all Irish students on J1 visas encouraging them to stay on and finish their summer working overseas.
“These six young people had much to offer each of our countries, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones, and friends,” he wrote. “I will continue to do whatever I can to offer support to those affected and my deepest sympathies.”