Alameda County DA Not Filing Criminal Charges in Berkeley Balcony Collapse

A man leaves flowers at an impromptu memorial for victims of the balcony collapse in Berkeley.  (Erik Neumann/KQED)

The Alameda County District Attorney's Office announced today it will not file criminal charges in connection with the Berkeley balcony collapse last June that killed six Irish citizens and injured seven others.

The collapse was believed to be caused by extensive dry rot to the wooden deck of a fifth-floor balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex on Kittredge Street in downtown Berkeley. Most of the visitors from Ireland had been working in the Bay Area under a cultural exchange program.

After a nine-month investigation, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced that “there is insufficient evidence to bring criminal manslaughter charges against any one individual or company” in regard to the tragedy on June 16, 2015.

The investigation into the collapse came after Berkeley's Planning and Development Department announced last June that it would not conduct forensic examination and laboratory tests of the balcony -- proceedings it had determined were "outside its scope of review,” according to the district attorney’s press release.

The DA's investigation set out to determine the cause of the collapse, the foreseeability of it and, essentially, who was to blame.

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Using forensic analysis of the wood used for the balcony’s construction -- and in collaboration with numerous industry experts -- investigators concluded the main reason for the collapse was water being trapped in the balcony deck during construction, leading to dry rot damage later on.

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

After offering his condolences to the victims’ families, Charles Flanagan, Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said in a statement released earlier that his department will “carefully consider the details” of the district attorney’s investigation.

Flanagan added, “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.”

While the criminal investigation into the collapse has come to an end, civil litigation continues with 12 lawsuits from victims and their families.

Michael A. Kelly is one of the attorneys representing the seven who were injured in the collapse, as well as the families of five of those killed.

In a written statement on behalf of his clients, Kelly said the district attorney’s decision does not come as a surprise, considering the high burden of proof that must be met in a criminal case.

Kelly added that the DA’s decision should not affect the victims’ ongoing civil proceedings in Alameda County Superior Court. He thanked the district attorney’s office for its investigation.

“Much of the information generated, the facts developed, the witnesses identified and the evidence collected in the criminal investigation will benefit the bereaved families and the injured students as they now prosecute the civil actions that have been filed,” Kelly said. “The prosecution of the civil cases will permit our clients to achieve their primary goals: uncovering the truth, publicly identifying the wrongdoers, and holding accountable those responsible for the damage, loss and suffering they have caused …”

Several city officials responded to the criminal investigation’s conclusion by offering their condolences to the victims' families once again, and hoped stricter building regulations put in place since the collapse will prevent a similar tragedy from occurring.

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The California Contractors State License Board may be taking further administrative action against the five contractors involved in the construction of Library Gardens. The decision is pending the conclusion of the board's own investigation.

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