The California District Attorney will bring no criminal charges in connection to the Berkeley apartment balcony collapse, which killed six young students and seriously injured seven others.
Nancy O’Malley, the Alameda County District Attorney, said, after a nine-month investigation, her office has concluded that there is “insufficient evidence” to bring manslaughter charges against any one individual or company involved. Following an initial investigation by Berkeley city authorities the balcony was found to have suffered significant water damage, which had caused dry rot in the wooden joists holding the balcony. A second balcony was also removed for safety reasons.
On June 16 2015 the balcony, at the Library Gardens apartment complex, in Berkley, collapsed under the weight of 13 people celebrating a 21st birthday. The collapse killed five Irish J-1 visa students and one Irish American. Those killed were Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster, Eimear Walsh, and Olivia Burke and her Irish-American cousin Ashley Donohoe. Clodagh Cogley, Hannah Waters, Aoife Beary, Sean Fahey, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray and Conor Flynn were all left with serious injuries.
Within days of the tragedy the Alameda County District Attorney had launched a criminal investigation.
In a statement released on Tuesday O’Malley said “Not a day has passed…that I have not thought of the victims and their families. I am keenly aware of the devastation and injuries each victim and each family suffered and continues to confront. Friends, families and entire communities both in California and in Ireland have been affected by the horror of that day.”
She went on to explain that the decision not to bring criminal charges was “not a decision that I came to lightly. It is the culmination of months of consultation with my team of attorneys.
"It follows extensive review of reports, both legal and factual, and numerous meetings with investigators and experts.”
Part of the investigation was the testing of the remains of the balcony. The DA’s office concluded that the balcony had collapsed due to "water had been trapped in the deck" during the construction phase, which had led to "eventual and extensive dry rot damage".
The water was trapped due to a number of factors including “the types of materials that were used” and the “very wet weather” during the building’s construction, in 2007. However, the materials were all in line with building code regulations.
To file a manslaughter case the DA needed to be “satisfied” that an individual or a company had acted with “disregard for human life" and that "the deadly consequences of those actions were reasonably foreseeable.” The DA maintains that this proof is not present.
Separately civil legal actions are ongoing as the families of those killed are suing over 30 companies for damages. Lawsuits, filed in November, said builders used cheaper “strand board” instead of plywood to construct the balcony, other builders had failed to waterproof the deck and that landlords ignored mushrooms growing on the deck, as an “unambiguous red flag.” Thirty-five companies were named in the suit, including BlackRock investment companies, the Greystar property management company and Segue Construction Inc., the apartment’s builder.
The lawyers representing the bereaved families, Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, released a statement explaining that “most legal experts” had not expected criminal charges giving the “high burden of proof" required to secure a conviction.”
The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said his department will carefully consider the DA’s findings. In a statement he said “While the District Attorney's investigation did not find sufficient proof to take separate criminal proceedings, it has shone a vital light on the circumstances and factors that contributed directly and indirectly to the collapse of the balcony.
"This investigation is an important step in a process, the ultimate objective of which is to ensure that a tragedy such as Berkeley never occurs again."