Owner, builder go uncharged in deadly balcony collapse

There will be no criminal charges filed for the deadly collapse of a balcony at a Berkeley apartment complex last year that killed six people and injured seven others, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

Prosecutors said they reviewed the case over the last nine months, conducting a forensic inspection of the deck and a thorough review of the legal issues involved to determine if there was criminal negligence in the balcony’s construction or maintenance warranting potential manslaughter charges.

But while the district attorney’s office investigation came to the same conclusion that the city of Berkeley’s investigation did regarding the cause of the collapse — that water intrusion had rotted support beams inside the deck — District Attorney Nancy O’Malley concluded there would be no criminal prosecution.

Five visiting Irish students, identified as Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh, and 22-year-old Rohnert Park resident Ashley Donohoe, fell to their deaths from the balcony on the fourth floor of 2020 Kittredge St., when the apartment’s balcony gave way and dumped them 40 feet to the pavement below in the early morning hours of June 16, 2015.

There were many contributing causes for the moisture intrusion, including the materials used, which were not prohibited by the building code, and wet weather during construction. There were numerous people who potentially could be held responsible in the construction and maintenance of the building, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors wrote in a statement explaining the decision:

“In order to file a manslaughter case based on criminal negligence, the District Attorney must be satisfied that any defendant or defendants acted with gross or reckless conduct akin to a disregard for human life, and that the deadly consequences of those actions were reasonably foreseeable.”

The Berkeley City Council passed stricter construction codes for outdoor structures and required inspections for all existing structures. The inspections determined that 402 of 2,176 structures inspected needed work.

Lawsuits filed by the victims and their families alleged that there were signs of issues with the balcony for years, including mushrooms growing on it, indicating the moisture intrusion, and the balcony leaning when people were standing on it.

Prosecutors said they will work with state officials considering imposing stricter oversight of contractors and new building codes.

O’Malley said in a statement:

“This is not a decision that I came to lightly. … 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.”

Prosecutors said they met with the families of each victim prior to making a public announcement.