6 killed in California balcony collapse during party

2015-06-17 00:34
A fourth floor balcony rests on the balcony below after collapsing at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, California. (Noah Berger, AP)

A fourth floor balcony rests on the balcony below after collapsing at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, California. (Noah Berger, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Berkeley - A 21st-birthday party thrown by a group of visiting Irish college students turned tragic early on Tuesday when the fourth-floor balcony they were crowded on collapsed with a sharp crack, spilling 13 people about 16m onto the pavement. Six people were killed and seven seriously injured.

Police and fire and building officials were working to figure out why the roughly 1.5m-by-3m concrete-floor balcony broke loose from the side of the stucco apartment building, situated a couple of blocks from the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

High school student Jason Biswas' family nearby was awakened by the noise.

"They thought there was an earthquake, but then we looked out the window and saw seven or eight people on the ground," the 16-year-old said. "There were piles of blood everywhere."

Five of the dead were 21-year-olds from Ireland who were in the country on so-called J-1 visas that enable young people to work and travel in the US over the summer, while the sixth victim was from California, authorities said.

The news brought an outpouring of grief in Ireland, from the prime minister on down.

Police had gotten a complaint about a loud party in the apartment about an hour before the accident, but had not yet arrived when the balcony gave way just after 00:30, spokesperson Byron White said. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said police told him 13 people were on the balcony.

'Irish hub'

"I just heard a bang and a lot of shouting," said Dan Sullivan, a 21-year-old student from Ireland who was asleep in the five-storey building. Mark Neville, another Irish student in the building, said: "I walked out and I saw rubble on the street and a bunch of Irish students crying."

The US government's J-1 program brings 100 000 college students to this country every year, with large numbers landing jobs at resorts, summer camps and other attractions. The San Francisco Bay area is especially popular with Irish students, many of whom work at Fisherman's Wharf and other tourist sites.

Sinead Loftus, 21, who attends Trinity College Dublin and is living this summer in a different apartment in Berkeley, said a few hundred Irish college students from many schools head to the Bay area. Berkeley, she said, is "the Irish hub".

"It's student-friendly, it's warm and it's a lot cheaper than San Francisco," she said. In fact, she said, "I've heard people complain there are too many people from Ireland here."

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Neeham said the response to the noise complaint had been given a lower priority after police received a call of shots fired elsewhere. Police arrived to find the metal-rail balcony had fallen off the side of the building and landed on the 3rd-floor balcony beneath it.


Investigators will probably look first at whether the balcony was built to code and whether rain or other weather weakened it, said Kevin Moore, a San Francisco-based engineer and chairperson of the structural standards committee of the Structural Engineers Association of California.

"Often times, they see weather a lot more than interior places, so deterioration can play a part," Moore said. Weather, "overloading, inadequate design, all these things come up in the investigations."

In the meantime, city inspectors barred use of the building's other balconies while they are checked for safety.

The Library Gardens apartment complex, completed in 2007, is in a lively part of downtown Berkeley close to the campus and is a popular place for students to live. Several tenants reached by telephone said it is well-maintained.

The building is owned by BlackRock, the largest asset management fund in the US, according to city officials, and managed by Greystar Management, whose website says it operates more than 400 000 units in the US and abroad. A call to Greystar officials was not immediately returned.

On the closed street below, a shrine was growing: flowers, a pack of cigarettes, a Cal Berkeley banner and condolence notes. Irish families were being notified, some heading for California.

The dead were identified as Ashley Donohoe, 22, of Rohnert Park, California, and Ireland's Oliva Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh.

"My heart breaks for the parents who lost children this morning, and I can only imagine the fear in the hearts of other parents whose children are in California this summer as they seek to contact them now," Ireland's prime minister told lawmakers in Dublin.

"It is truly terrible to have such a serious and sad incident take place at the beginning of a summer of adventure and opportunity for so many young people on J-1 visas in the US"

A 2010 Associated Press investigation of the J-1 programme and the companies that arrange the visits found that many students paid thousands of dollars to come to the US, only to learn the jobs they were promised didn't exist.

Some had to share beds in crowded houses or filthy apartments.

Following the investigation, the State Department tightened its rules governing participating businesses.

Read more on:    ireland  |  us

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.