No official cause released for wall collapse

Posted at 9:40 PM, Mar 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-09 23:55:32-05

After a wall collapse at Alexander Lofts at 326 Fern Street in West Palm Beach sent bricks ripping through the William W. Price Law Offices, those inside at the time spoke exclusively to our Contact 5 Investigators about what they believe may have caused the wall to fall.

There is still no official cause of the collapse but, engineers from both the City of West Palm Beach and property owners Ram Realty, say metal straps that are supposed to secure the outer wall to the building were so badly deteriorated it at least played a roll. There's also been speculation about vibrations from the construction of "The Alexander" building just across the street. The vibration concerns have been largely discounted, but not everyone is so sure.

"I had just come into the office, hadn't even gotten a cup of coffee" said Attorney William Price, as he recounted the moments leading up the collapse. 

"I was at my desk. Bill came over," said paralegal Elizabeth Crippen.

The two had planned to prep for an upcoming case.

"I said, you know, before we go any further, let's just go to the conference room," said Crippen. A decision that may have saved their lives.

"All of a sudden....kaboom," Crippen said.

"I immediately saw a cloud of dust rush down my hallway and past my office and went into panic mode. I Thought the entire building was coming down," said Attorney Michael Herman.

They didn't know it yet, but 200 square feet of bricks from the east wall of their neighbor, Alexander Lofts, came crashing down from three stories above.

"Bill got up and he was saying everybody out of the office, everybody out of the office" Crippen recalled.

There were nine people in the building at the time and getting everyone out was easier said than done.

"The difficulty arose from the fact that some of the staff was in shock. One woman was found walking in circles," said Herman.

"I kept thinking, oh my God the girls up front. I was like, they gotta be dead," Crippen Added.

Amazingly everyone got out alive.

"When they came out they were covered in soot, just like the pictures of the World Trade Center," Price said referring to three female paralegals who were in one of the hardest hit areas of the building.

After a quick head count Price called 911.

Dispatcher: 911 where is your emergency?

Price: Yeah, we just had something fall on top of our building.

Dispatcher: What is your address?

Price: Uh, 320 Fern Street, we need help!

Dispatcher: Any idea what fell on top of the building? Is there any smoke, fire?

Price: It looks like the whole wall from the building next door dropped on top of our roof. The whole wall, the mural came down on top of my building.

Dispatcher: What fell down?

Price: The mural from Alexander Lofts, the mural fell down on my building, the whole brick wall. We need help.

Dispatcher: Is anybody hurt?

Price: A couple of the women, the ceiling collapsed on them but we got them out of the building.

Once the dust settled, questions started to rise about the cause of the collapse and many looked to the construction site across the street.

The following day, Friday, March 4, an engineer with the City of West Palm Beach said Kast Construction had been monitoring vibration activity on their site and said there was no significant vibration since Sunday, nearly 4 days prior to the collapse. They, unofficially, concluded that vibrations did not play a roll, but Price and his associates say it's been an ongoing issue.

"We found that some shelving in the office had actually collapsed," said Herman referring to a discovery they made at their office back on Monday September 21, 2015.

"We assumed that it was from the construction because at the time they were actually drilling pile-ons for the structure of the building across the street," Herman added.

Ram Realty owns Alexander Lofts and is a part owner of "The Alexander" being built across the street on Fern by Kast Construction.

"You talked to (Kast) about it?" asked Contact 5 Investigator Jared Werksma.

"We had them over to the office and they told us that they were going to be extra diligent about those vibrations to insure that we didn't have any future issues," said Herman.

However, they say problems with vibrations continued and now Price has asked an engineering firm to independently investigate the impact of vibrations coming from the construction site on the wall collapse. 

We asked Price if he and his firm plan to file suit as a result of the damages they suffered. He says it's far too early to tell. Contact 5 went to one of Kast Construction's offices to ask about the concern over vibrations and to see if they would share data they've collected from their own vibration sensors. Kast employees said, simply, "no." 

Contact 5 is using both public and private resources to find the information.

We'll keep you updated as the investigation progresses.