Library Gardens builder seeks to stop DA from examining Berkeley balcony without it being present

A balcony at Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley collapsed Tuesday, killing six. Photo: David Yee
Segue Construction, which built Library Gardens, scene of an accident that killed six on June 16, 2015, will ask a judge to issue a restraining order preventing the DA’s office from examining the two balconies unless one of their representatives is present. Photo: David Yee

Segue Construction, the company that oversaw the building of Library Gardens, scene of an accident that killed six earlier this month, plans to ask a judge today to prohibit the Alameda County district attorney’s office from examining the balcony that sheared off the fifth floor June 16 unless one of its representatives is present.

In a three-paragraph press release, Pleasanton-based Segue pledged to cooperate with the DA’s investigation into the cause of the collapse that killed six students and injured seven others. But the company plans to seek a temporary restraining order “to ensure no evidence related to this tragic accident is altered, inspected, tested, or destroyed without allowing Segue to observe and participate in that process,” the company said.

Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.

Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office, said early Tuesday that she could not comment yet on the news. She was not even sure that the DA’s office had been served any papers yet.

Nancy O’Malley, the district attorney, announced June 24 that her office has launched a criminal investigation into the balcony collapse. If the DA can prove criminal negligence, it could result in a charge of involuntary manslaughter, O’Malley said at a press conference last week.

Criminal negligence occurs when someone acts “in a high-risk way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury,” she said. “It must be aggravated, it must be culpable, it must be gross or reckless. And it must be conduct that is such a departure from what would be the conduct of an ordinarily prudent person or careful person under the circumstances as to be incompatible with protecting life.”

Further, O’Malley said the evidence would have to show that the conduct was more than just ordinary carelessness, inattention or mistaken judgment.

Segue Construction, which has paid out millions of dollars in damages in lawsuits over water intrusion for other projects, defended its reputation Tuesday.

“As part of the Northern California community for more than 20 years, Segue has constructed more than 6,000 apartments across the region,” the company said. “We have never had an incident in which a member of the public was injured as a result of construction defects after a project was completed and we are shocked and saddened by the loss of life and injuries that resulted from this tragic accident.”

Six students, five from Ireland and one from Rohnert Park, died June 16 when the balcony they were standing on during a 21st birthday celebration broke away from the wall and flipped over, sending 13 people plummeting around 50 feet to the sidewalk.

The city of Berkeley conducted an investigation into the city’s deadliest accident, and concluded that dry rot weakened the beams holding up the balcony. The city did not look into how the beams were weakened, however.

Removing balcony Emily Dugdale
On June 16, 2015, a crane removed the balcony that collapsed in the early hours of that day, killing six. Photo: Emily Dugdale

The city asked the owner of Library Gardens, BlackRock, to remove the balcony that collapsed, as well as the one below it. The balconies were initially in Berkeley’s possession, but are now in possession of the DA’s office.

Scott Williams, who has represented many parties in construction defect management cases, told Berkeleyside shortly after the balcony collapse that he thought the way the city was handling the case would result in the destruction of important evidence. He said the city should have required a forensic contractor to oversee the removal of the balcony. Forensic contractors are trained to preserve evidence, Williams said.

Irish consul general says J1 students a source of pride (06.26.15)
DA launches criminal investigation into balcony collapse (06.25.15)
‘Severely dry rotted’ timber found after balcony collapse; city plans to stiffen safety rules (06.23.15)
Church services held for balcony collapse victims (06.20.15)
Protesters demand halt on new construction in Berkeley (06.19.15)
No ‘smoking gun’ in Berkeley balcony design (06.19.15)
As students recover in hospitals, support grows for survivors, victims of balcony collapse (06.18.15)
Coroner releases autopsy results on balcony victims; first responders sought help for stress (06.18.15)
City posts documents from balcony collapse property (06.18.15)
People gather to remember victims of Berkeley balcony collapse (06.18.15)
Firm that built Berkeley complex has been fined, sued (06.18.15)
Support springs up for families, friends of deceased (06.17.15)
As Berkeley orders removal of second balcony, questions over quality of construction (06.17.15)
Berkeley building under scrutiny before balcony collapse (06.17.15)
Mayor, consul general, lay wreaths to honor 6 killed in Berkeley balcony collapse (06.16.15)
Six who died in Berkeley: Young students in their prime (06.16.15)
Six students killed in Berkeley balcony collapse identified (06.16.15)
Berkeley orders balcony removal after tragedy kills 6 (06.16.15)
Berkeley balcony collapse leaves 6 students dead (06.16.15)

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Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Cityside. Email: