Warnings Ignored: No Action Taken to Repair Iowa Building Before Deadly Collapse, Despite Cracked Floors and Bowed Walls

Numerous individuals were aware that something was amiss with the 116-year-old Davenport apartment building. These included a structural engineer who noted the unstable wall, the head of a masonry company who refused to let his workers on the site, a city inspector who threatened to close some of the units, a downtown official who called 911 and requested firefighters investigate, and tenants who reported cracks in their floors and walls. Despite this knowledge, no one ordered the residents to vacate the premises. It was only after a section of the six-story brick, steel and concrete building collapsed on the afternoon of May 28th that the pieces fell into place.

Three men tragically lost their lives, around 50 tenants were left homeless without their belongings, and the city was faced with the prospect of one of its tallest buildings collapsing in the heart of downtown. When asked why residents had not been warned days after the collapse, Davenport Mayor Mike Matson responded, “I don’t believe anyone could have foreseen a building collapsing”.

As a result of the collapse, a number of tenants have started to file lawsuits, arguing that no one should be surprised by what happened. Attorney Andrew M. Stroth, who is part of a team that filed one of the first lawsuits on behalf of tenants Lexus Berry and Peach Berry, whose leg was amputated when she was trapped in the rubble, said, “The owner of this building was aware, the city of Davenport was aware, the engineering companies and construction people were aware.

This was a completely preventable tragedy,”. The lawsuit further alleged that the parties involved did nothing to warn the tenants about the precarious nature of the building. Despite the tenants’ concerns, their warnings fell on deaf ears. Shauna Dixon, a tenant, recalled her numerous concerns regarding the wall of her apartment, which ultimately gave way.

Shauna Dixon messaged her leasing agent about the wall of her apartment, expressing her concerns about the safety of the structure. She asked if the wall was “safe as far as structure? Just asking because the floor and wall is really soft. I don’t want to fall out the side of the building one day,”. She added a “rolling on the floor laughing” emoji to her message.

Despite Dixon’s messages, the leasing agent and management office responded by saying that maintenance would be dispatched to address the issues. However, Dixon noted that no progress was made in the weeks that followed. When Dixon removed her carpet, she discovered “very big cracks in the cement” and a crumbling foundation, which worried her the most.

Dixon raised her concerns with the management office, but nothing was done about them. She requested to break her lease or be moved to another apartment, and management relocated her to a building across the street. However, even after moving out, Dixon was still devastated to see the rubble of her former apartment building. Similarly, Trent Fuessel and his girlfriend Aurea Monet moved out of their apartment on May 20 because they were concerned about their safety. They outlined their reasons for leaving in an email to Village Property Management, indicating that they would be terminating their lease and vacating the premises.

On May 4, Trent Fuessel and his girlfriend Aurea Monet contacted Village Property Management outlining their safety concerns, and questioning whether the building was structurally sound. In response, they received an email stating that “there are no structural deficiencies within the building,” and that the building had been approved by a structural engineer.

The email was accompanied by a screenshot. Fuessel, while relieved that they left the building in time, expressed his outrage that their concerns were not taken seriously, saying it was “a disregard for human life for a petty $750 a month”. Despite several attempts to reach out to Village Property Management, no response has been received on their part.

City officials had been alerted to issues surrounding the deteriorating state of The Davenport in at least 2021. The city threatened to shut down some units unless owner Andrew Wold made repairs. However, documents suggest that Wold initially took no action.

In February 2023, MidAmerican Energy informed the city of deteriorating brick on the building’s west wall and stated that its workers would not enter the site until dangerous conditions were fixed. Subsequently, Wold hired Select Structural Engineering to conduct an emergency inspection and suggest needed repairs. In the report, Engineer David Valliere noted a section of brick that was “cracked and crumbling” and needed repairs. However, the report concluded that the issue was not an “imminent threat to the building or its residents”.

Apologies, it seems there was an error in my previous response. Here is the corrected version:

City officials had known about crumbling bricks and bulging walls at The Davenport since at least 2021 and threatened to close some units unless owner Andrew Wold made repairs, but documents show the owner initially appeared to take no action.

In February 2022, utility MidAmerican Energy also told the city about deteriorating brick on the building’s west wall and said its workers would stay away from the site until dangerous conditions were fixed.

Soon after, Wold hired Select Structural Engineering to make an emergency inspection and recommend needed work. In a report dated Feb. 8, Engineer David Valliere noted an area of brick “cracked and crumbling” that needed repairs but determined it was not an “imminent threat to the building or its residents.”

Although many people were aware of the issues at The Davenport, it appears that no one was more concerned than Ryan Shaffer, co-owner of a masonry company.

As the building owner had requested a quote from him, Shaffer had taken a closer look at the building and estimated that he would need to spend around $50,000 on shoring and supporting the structure. Wold, however, rejected his quote as being too expensive, and Shaffer subsequently refused to allow his workers onto the site since the building was unsafe without proper support. Shaffer was visibly shaken by what he had seen and reportedly warned workers, just two days before the collapse, that they were in danger. Despite the tragic outcome, Shaffer has not responded to requests for comment from the Associated Press.

Ryan Shaffer’s warning to workers that they were in danger likely filtered up to Tony Behncke, operations director for the Downtown Davenport Partnership, a group under the Chamber of Commerce focused on the downtown’s appearance. On the day preceding the collapse, Behncke received a call from a worker who had been cleaning up trash in an alley next to the building.

The worker told Behncke that Shaffer had warned him about the danger posed by the structure. Behncke immediately called 911 and passed on the concerns to the dispatcher. This prompted firefighters to visit the building, but the visit was short and didn’t result in any action. The city hasn’t provided additional information about the incident to date. Rich Oswald, the director of development and neighborhood services for the city, confirmed that the chief building official, Trishna Pradhan, had resigned in the days after the collapse.

However, Oswald did not suggest that Pradhan bore any responsibility for the collapse but instead linked her resignation to an administrative error regarding an inspection of the building. Oswald confirmed that Pradhan’s resignation was driven by the magnitude of the situation and the mistaken classification of the inspection.

Trishna Pradhan, the city’s chief building official who resigned shortly after the collapse, could not be reached for comment, as she did not respond to calls and text messages.

City officials have faced questions from reporters as to why they did not demand that tenants vacate The Davenport or at least warn them of the concerns. While expressing their condolences for the victims, officials have promised to review their inspection process.

However, they have also reiterated that a certified engineer had deemed the building safe, so they had no reason to think otherwise. According to Rich Oswald, “an engineer’s report, stamped by that engineer, is a qualified report.” As such, it was up to the engineer to determine whether the building was safe.

Less than two days after the collapse, the city fined Wold $300 for failing to maintain his building in a sanitary, safe, and sound condition. Wold declined to appear in court to enter a plea and lawyers appearing on his behalf were denied, according to court documents. Wold’s lawyers have since stated that he will not appear at a rescheduled hearing and will instead accept judgment against him by default.