No charges to be filed in deadly balcony collapse

Balcony fell, killing six last year at Berkeley apartment complex built by Pleasanton firm

There will be no criminal charges filed for the deadly collapse of a balcony at a Berkeley apartment complex last year that killed six people and injured seven others, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office announced Tuesday.

Prosecutors said they spent the past nine months probing the fatal balcony collapse at the Library Gardens, an apartment complex built with Pleasanton-based Segue Construction as lead contractor.

The DA's office said its investigators conducted a forensic inspection of the deck and a thorough review of the legal issues involved to determine if there was criminal negligence in the balcony's construction or maintenance warranting potential manslaughter charges.

But while the district attorney's office investigation came to the same conclusion that the city of Berkeley's investigation did regarding the cause of the collapse -- that water intrusion had rotted support beams inside the deck -- District Attorney Nancy O'Malley concluded there would be no criminal prosecution.

There were many contributing causes for the moisture intrusion, including the materials used, which were not prohibited by the building code, and wet weather during construction. There were numerous people who potentially could be held responsible in the construction and maintenance of the building, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors wrote in a statement explaining the decision, "In order to file a manslaughter case based on criminal negligence, the District Attorney must be satisfied that any defendant or defendants acted with gross or reckless conduct akin to a disregard for human life, and that the deadly consequences of those actions were reasonably foreseeable."

Thirteen people attending a birthday party, including many visiting Irish students, were standing on the fourth-floor balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex at 2020 Kittredge St. when it collapsed in the early morning hours of June 16, 2015. Six people were killed and seven others were seriously injured.

The Berkeley City Council passed stricter construction codes for outdoor structures and required inspections for all existing structures. The inspections determined that 402 of 2,176 structures inspected needed work.

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is nearing the end of its independent investigation into five construction companies that worked on the balcony, including Segue Construction.

The investigation will determine if administrative actions will be taken against the licensed contractors, according to a release.

"The main questions we're trying to answer are if the various contractors involved followed the architectural plans for the balcony, including the use of the proper building materials, and whether workmanship standards were followed." said David Fogt, CSLB's Chief of Enforcement. "If not, it's a clear violation of the law."

Lawsuits filed by the victims and their families alleged that there were signs of issues with the balcony for years, including mushrooms growing on it, indicating the moisture intrusion, and the balcony leaning when people were standing on it.

Prosecutors said they will work with state officials considering imposing stricter oversight of contractors and new building codes.

"This is not a decision that I came to lightly," O'Malley said in a statement. "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."

Prosecutors said they met with the families of each victim prior to making a public announcement.

Staff reporter Meredith Bauer contributed to this report.

— Bay City News Service

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