No criminal charges over Berkeley balcony collapse

The US district attorney who investigated the Berkeley balcony collapse in which five Irish students and one Irish American woman died has decided against bringing criminal charges.

No criminal charges over Berkeley balcony collapse

Nancy E O’Malley said it was not a decision that she came to lightly, but that after a nine-month investigation, there remained “insufficient evidence to bring criminal manslaughter charges against any one individual or company”. Ms O’Malley communicated her decision to the victims’ families before making it public.

Five of the six deceased were Irish students working in California on J1 visas and all were aged 21.

They were Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster, and Eimear Walsh. The sixth victim, Ashley Donohue, 22, was an Irish-American cousin of Ms Burke.

Seven others sustained serious injuries when the fourth-floor balcony they were standing on collapsed during a 21st birthday party in the early hours of June 16, 2015. They were Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Seán Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray, and Hannah Waters.

Lawyers for 12 of the Berkeley families said most legal experts did not expect criminal charges, given the high burden of proof and the likelihood that more than one person’s misconduct over a 10-year period caused the collapse.

However, they said the investigation by the DA’s office would benefit the civil legal actions for damages taken by the families of the six victims and the seven survivors.

The families have taken legal cases against Segue Construction, the California contractor that built the apartment block, the property’s owner, a subsidiary of asset management giant Blackrock, and about 30 other firms involved in the construction, design, and maintenance of the property.

The family of Ms Donohoe said they are “disappointed” criminal charges are not being pursued but are “very appreciative” of the work carried out by the DA when others would not carry out a criminal investigation.

Last June, the City of Berkeley Planning and Development Department announced that forensic examination and laboratory tests of the balcony were outside its scope of review.

However, the DA said her office would conduct an independent investigation. Ms O’Malley said after reviewing all the reports, “experts believe that the primary reason the balcony collapsed was because water had been trapped[or “encapsulated”] in the balcony deck during construction, leading to eventual and extensive dry rot damage”.

She said there appeared to be “many contributory causes of this encapsulation, including the types of material that were used [none of which are prohibited] and the very wet weather Berkeley experienced during the months of construction”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said his department “ will carefully consider the details of the DA’s findings”.

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