Vermillion wants structures studied

A Vermillion city official says inspections will be conducted on other structures after overcrowding apparently led to the weekend collapse of a downtown apartment balcony.

At least 10 people were hospitalized in the incident, which occurred around 2:30 a.m. Sunday. The apartment is located above Carey's Bar at 18 West Main Street. The deck stood above the beer garden behind the bar.

The incident does not appear to be caused by any violations of city ordinances, said Vermillion building official Farrel Christiansen.

"We looked at (the balcony site) and compared it to the building code to see if it was built correctly," he said. "The deck seemed to be adequately constructed and reasonably attached to the building. We believe the primary cause of the collapse was overcrowding."

 Christiansen said he had no firm figures on the stress exerted on the balcony just prior to its collapse. However, he said the total weight of the individuals could have exceeded 2,000 pounds.

The balcony was crowded at the time of the collapse, Christiansen said. The deck provided a fire escape as well as a place for the tenants and guests to stand outside, he said.

"It was heavily loaded (when it gave way)," he said. "If they were averaging 200 pounds (a person), that would come to a ton."

Unlike bars and restaurants, decks do not contain a maximum limit for occupants, Christiansen said. "There is no number on the wall when it comes to decks," he said.

The apartment owner will likely replace the deck, Christiansen said. "Otherwise, it's a door leading to nowhere," he said.

As a safety precaution, Vermillion city officials will inspect other downtown buildings with similar structures, Christiansen said. The inspections will determine that the decks are safe and meet current city ordinances, he said.

"We want to make sure there is not another problem," he said.

At least 10 people were injured when the balcony collapsed, according to Vermillion Police Chief Art Mabry.

"Six people were taken by ambulance to the (Vermillion) hospital, and my officers saw another four people walk into the hospital after arriving by private transportation," Mabry said.

"According to our officers on the scene, and what they experienced, they described injuries ranging from bumps and bruises to very serious injuries."

The injured persons probably had an even larger fall than normally expected, Mabry said.

"Downtown, the first floor of those businesses typically have very high ceilings," he said. "This (deck) was more like 2 1/2 stories up. I would say it was about 25 feet off the ground, so it was a good drop."

Fortunately, the incident occurred after the bar had closed at 2 a.m., Mabry said.

"It was a rainy night, and anybody in the beer garden would have been standing under the deck to stay out of the rain," the police chief said.

"Had that (balcony) come down with anybody underneath, they would have been killed instantly."

Mabry said the balcony collapse was the first incident of its kind that he could recall in his eight years as Vermillion police chief.

"The deck was four feet by six feet," he said. "One of the (news) reporters measured that size down on the floor and was amazed that 10 people were on it."

Mabry said he found no indication of criminal activity or other violations and has closed the case. However, he advised property owners to double-check the safety of their decks.

"I'm not saying, had the tenants looked, they would have found anything and avoided this (accident)," he said. "But as an owner or tenant, it's not a bad idea to look at the construction of these kinds of structures periodically, especially those things like decks that are outside and weathered."

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