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No charges over balcony collapse that killed Irish students

No criminal proceedings will be brought over the balcony collapse that killed five Irish students on working holidays in the US last summer, it has been revealed.

After a nine-month investigation, Nancy O’Malley, District Attorney in Alameda County, near San Francisco, California, found there was insufficient evidence for a manslaughter case.

The DA’s office said it could not take a case against any one individual or company.

“This is not a decision that I came to lightly,” Ms O’Malley said.

“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.”

In the early hours of June 16 2015 six students died. Another seven sustained serious injuries.

The five Irish students who died were all from south Dublin – medical students and friends Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh; Olivia Burke, who went to school with Eimear; Niccolai Schuster, who was at the same college as Lorcan and Eimear, and his friend from school Eoghan Culligan.

Irish-American Ashley Donohoe, who lived in California and was a cousin of Olivia’s, also died.

The students were on J1 working visas for the summer and were among 40 people attending a birthday party when the balcony collapsed.

Ms O’Malley said: “Not a day has passed since the tragedy of June 16 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.”

Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said his thoughts were with the families and friends of the those who died.

“My department will carefully consider the details of the District Attorney’s findings,” 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.”

The DA’s office made contact with the families of the dead before announcing the decision.

The tragedy struck a 21st birthday party with all the dead and some of the injured having connections to south Dublin.

Initial examinations of the remnants of the balcony showed rot had set into heavy wooden beams.

The DA’s office said forensic reports and expert analysis showed water had been trapped in the deck during construction, ” leading to eventual and extensive dry rot damage”.

“There appear to be many contributory causes of this encapsulation, including the types of material that were used (none of which are prohibited by building code) and the very wet weather Berkeley experienced during the months of construction,” it said.

“The responsibility for this failure likely extends to many of the parties involved in the construction or maintenance of the building.”

But it cautioned that in order to bring a manslaughter case the DA would have to be satisfied there was ” gross or reckless conduct akin to a disregard for human life”

The DA’s office said it will support any action against the construction firms by the California Contractors State License Board.

It also said it will collaborate with industry leaders and lawmakers to consider amending building codes and inspection oversight laws so that tragedies like this never occur again.

The balcony collapsed from the fifth storey of the Library Gardens complex in Berkeley.

About 40 people had been in the party in the apartment when the tragedy struck.

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Another balcony at the apartment complex was deemed “structurally unsafe” and a “collapse hazard” in the wake of the incident and the owners of the building were ordered to demolish it.

Segue Construction, which built the complex, said at the time it would co-operate fully with any inquiry and expressed condolences to the families and friends of those who died or were injured.


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