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Officials Probe Deadly Building Collapse

Thursday, December 8, 2016

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Federal workplace safety authorities are investigating a building collapse that killed a construction worker and trapped a woman Dec. 2 in downtown Sioux Falls, SD.

A three-story brick building, built in 1916, collapsed during remodeling activities Friday morning at about 10:30 a.m.

Worker Ethan McMahon, 24, was killed and 22-year-old Emily Fodness, who was in her family's upstairs apartment, was trapped for three hours underneath the twisted metal and concrete rubble, before she was pulled to safety.

McMahon’s brother, John, who was also working on the building and two dogs belonging to the Fodness family were able to survive the collapse and were pulled to safety. A third dog was found alive at the scene some 48 hours later, reports said.

More than 120 emergency workers responded to the scene. Debris that had shifted during the collapse put them risk and slowed rescue efforts, reports said. An adjacent building was also damaged in the incident. Heavy equipment was brought in to brace the neighboring building.

Permit in Question

The building, which formerly housed a bar called the Copper Lounge, was reportedly being converted into a drugstore by Hultgren Construction. However, the Sioux Falls contractor did not have proper permits in place, officials allege.

The City of Sioux Falls Chief Building Services Official Ron Bell told a local television station that the company only had a permit for tile and flooring renovations to the Copper Lounge Building, but not to work on a connecting wall.

“To date there hasn't been any architectural or structural submittals for us to be able to issue a building permit,” Bell said.

“If they were taking down the load bearing wall, we would have required (structural) submittals,” Bell told the Argus Leader newspaper.

The city has turned over the investigation to the federal authorities, noting that the owner of the building, Norman Drake, and the construction company would also be investigating.

Hultgren Construction reportedly posted a photo Nov. 30 to its Facebook page showing a worker removing bricks from the building in the demolition stage, the newspaper noted. The photo had been deleted but a screenshot was submitted to the newspaper.

OSHA Probe

Investigators from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration have opened a case to determine the cause of the collapse and issue any citations, if warranted.

“This was a preventable incident we believe,” OSHA spokesman Scott Allen told reporters. “Anytime a construction worker or anyone is killed on the job, OSHA is going to look very closely at all of the details that happened and try to determine what caused the incident.”

Hultgren Construction does not have a record of prior workplace safety violations. The contractor has not released a comment on the incident and did not respond Wednesday to a D+D News request for comment.

Reports say McMahon was a veteran, a loving father and friend. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help his family with costs. As of Wednesday, $22,740 had been donated.

A separate GoFundMe page was set up for the Fodness family to help them relocate as they lost their home in the collapse.



Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Demolition; Fatalities; Health and safety; Historic Structures; Maintenance programs; Rehabilitation/Repair; Renovation

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