A survivor of the balcony collapse that killed six young Irish and Irish-American people in Berkeley, CA in June 2016, yesterday testified before California's Assembly Appropriations Committee and explained to the state's lawmakers that her birthday would forever be marked by the anniversary of the death her friends.
Aoife Beary, now aged 22, was celebrating her 21st birthday in their summer-rented apartment at the Library Garden complex at 2020 Kittredge Street in Berkeley, when the apartment’s balcony collapsed, killing five Irish students on J-1 visas – Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster, and Eimear Walsh – and Burke’s American cousin, Ashley Donohue.
Seven additional Irish students were injured in the collapse, including Beary, who had to be placed in an induced coma in order to recover from her injuries.
In emotional testimony, Beary told the committee members of her injuries and the long-term effects the accident has had on her life. She urged the members to pass a bill currently stalled in the Assembly that will bring more transparency to the construction industry in California.
At the hearing, Beary spoke of the loss of the friends she had known since she was four-years-old, friends she believes could have been saved if it was known the construction company responsible for the construction of the apartments had a history of defects settlements.
"I miss my friends so much,” she said.
"I’ve known them since we started school together at four years of age. We had grown up together and now my birthday will always be their anniversary."
As the opening witness in support of Senate Bill 465, authored by Senators Jerry Hill and Loni Hancock, Beary also listed the injuries she sustained which prevented her from returning to college to complete her final year.
She told the hearing how she suffered "traumatic brain injury, open heart surgery, broken arms, hands, pelvis and jaw along with losing teeth".
"I had alterations with my kidney, liver and spleen. I had a collapsed lung and broken lung. None of this needed to happen.
“My life has changed forever. I cannot believe why you are even debating this Bill. People died.”
Joining the young survivor was her mother Angela Beary and the mother of victim Ashley Donohue, Jackie Donohue, both of whom spoke in support of the bill. The bill, if passed, would will require the Contractors State License Board and California’s Building Standards Commission to conduct separate probes into how best to ensure public safety in the construction industry. They are expected to report to the egislature by January 2018 as to whether the state should compel license contractors to report judgments, arbitration awards and settlement payments for construction defects that exceed an amount that is to be set by the board.
The bill was introduced almost immediately after the Berkeley tragedy once it emerged that, despite initial claims that too many people had been on the balcony at the time, the cause of the collapse was dry rot caused by inadequate sealing at the time the apartment building was built in 2007.
It was also later revealed that the firm that built the apartment complex had a history of construction defect cases and had previously paid $26.5 million in settlements. The Contractors State License Board was not aware of the firm’s many settlements as contractors are not required to disclose such information.
Jackie Donohue told the hearing that the young people on that balcony had been failed by such a system that allowed a construction company to hide their previous misdemeanors and shoddy work in this manner.
"I know I speak now on behalf of all the 13 families when I say as a result of the balcony collapse all our lives have been irrevocably changed and life will never be the same for us again," said Angela Beary.
The bill must pass the committee by Friday in order to move forward. Construction industry representatives have since withdrawn their opposition to the bill.