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07-18-2008, 05:02 PM #1
Houston Texas Apartment Stairwell Collapse Kills 2 Children
A sad story and testament to why inspectors are critical to public safety. No one ever thinks about inspection until there is a problem, and then the question is "what about inspections"?
From KHOU.com in Houston Texas
The collapse happened late Wednesday at the Westwood Fountains apartment complex in southwest Houston.
Four-year-old Miguel Angel Robledo and 10-year-old David Vasquez were playing Hide and Seek in the maintenance stairwell when it suddenly came crashing down.
Both victims were crushed. Their 9-year-old friend was trapped with a broken leg.
Migelina Benitez was curled up in her bed Thursday, hoping to wake up from a nightmare.
"She doesn’t want to believe it," said Dina Cornejo, a family friend. "They were just standing there. She spoke to her son. He’s just four years old and she said, 'Baby, I’m going to take you out. Just let me get someone."
But Migelina couldn't keep her promise and little Miguel did not make it out.
Bound by the same tragedy is the family of 10-year-old David Vasquez.
His mother spoke with 11 News Thursday through a translator.
"My oldest daughter got a chance to talk to him. My oldest daughter heard him scream," the mother said.
Miguel Angel Robledo, left, and David Vasquez were killed in the collapse.
Now the families want to knowhow a stairwell meant to give service workers access to the roof could collapse under the feet of children.
Inspectors with the same questions searched the rubble for clues Thursday.
"We know the structure was deteriorated -- both the wooden structural members and the steel members," explained Ernesto Buenrostro, HPD's chief inspector.
An 11 News crew found another maintenance stairwell on the complex property, also in a state of disrepair. It had a hole in the floor and crumbling cement. By midday, the second stairwell was blocked, making access difficult even for inspectors.
"We found it structurally unsound. It’s been sealed," Buenrostro said.
Recent inspection reports show minor problems like roof leaks. Those were checked out by the city's Neighborhood Protection Unit.
Before Thursday, city inspectors had not been at the complex in 12 years. Officials said they only come out when people call with complaints.
It wasn't long before Buenrostro and his team found other problems.
"We found some problems with structural," he said. "Some of the bolts, some of the wooden and steel have deteriorated."
Buenrostro said it's not an immediate danger, but cause for concern. He said the repairs are already under way.
But it can’t repair the haunting memory of 9-year-old Jose Martine Castro, the only child who survived the collapse.
"I was able to take him out," Castro's father said. "A couple of men and I were able to lift the wall and I was able to pull him out."
The other boys' families are wondering why no one could get their children out.
"People tried to get the children, but they were only able to get one out and the fire department got there and told everyone to get out of the way," Cornejo said.
The fire department wasn't available for comment on the rescue effort.
Avi Thadhani, Community Supervisor with Westwood Fountains Apartments, did comment via a statement that was released Friday. She wrote, “Westwood Fountains is deeply saddened by the horrific accident that occurred on Wednesday evening. We have been told by the City that at this point the building is structurally safe and we are fully cooperating with city officials. Right now our concern is for the two families who are grieving the loss of their loved ones and we ask that you join us in our prayers for them.”
Shyam Thadhani and his wife are part of a large group of investors who own Westwood Fountains and other complexes.
The Thadani’s admit they are part owners of many low income apartment complexes including Villa Madrid.
They insist they aren’t slumlords.
Still, records show that Houston’s Neighborhood Protection cited villa Madrid with more than 40 violations including unstable stairwells. That was in March.
Houston’s Neighborhood Protection says the Thadhani’s have fixed some of the problems but not all of them.
The Thandhanis’ say they are concentrating on structural repairs at Westwood Fountains.