Six Killed In Balcony Collapse

A fourth floor balcony collapsed on the balcony below at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, California. Photo: Noah Berger, AP

BERKELEY—Thirteen adults fell from a four-story balcony that collapsed at the Library Gardens, an apartment complex on 2020 Kittredge Street near the University of California-Berkeley on June 16.

Among the victims, six were killed, and seven were critically injured. Irish students Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster, Eimear Walsh, and cousins Olivia Burke and Ashley Donohoe were among those killed when the balcony collapsed.

The visiting students were attending a 21st birthday celebration when the incident occurred. Two victims died at the scene; others were transported to Highland Hospital in Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, and John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek.

The cause of the collapse is still under investigation by officials. The San Francisco News contacted Library Gardens Apartments and Greystar Management who declined to comment on details about the incident.

Architect and premise safety expert, Ronald Bertone, and structural engineers, Gene St. Onge, Enjin Yagmur, and Grace Kang, were part of the investigative team that studied the remains of the collapse. Kang commented that “California building codes during the past decade have required balconies to support 100-pounds per square foot. The previous codes called for 60 pounds of support per square foot.” She believes that a balcony of that size may have been too small to support 13 people, and that excessive dancing and movement would cause strain on the structural support of the balcony. 

Investigators have agreed that the likelihood of a collapse occurring to a building merely eight years old, is extremely uncommon. There has been new evidence that indicates the balcony’s structural support was compromised due to dry rotten wooden joists on the unit, rot caused by water damage.

Yagmur stated that “balconies are often neglected from apartment unit inspections; multi-unit structure inspections are recommended every five to 10 years, or when there’s an ownership change.” Structural decay attributed to dry rot are generally difficult to detect and delay, due to the fact that water damage often goes undetected and unseen until an incident of this nature occurs.

Investigators discovered that Unit 305 was structurally unsafe and could potentially pose a collapse hazard. Two other balcony units in the complex have also been red-taped due to potential safety concerns to the public. Materials are being further analyzed by the City of Berkeley to determine whether the deck was properly protected by waterproof sealing. The city will announce the results upon completion of a thorough investigation in the coming weeks.