The contractor found responsible for the building collapse in Sioux Falls could face criminal charges. The collapse of the old Copper Lounge building killed one worker and left a building resident trapped under rubble for hours while rescuers worked to free her. Hultgren Construction already faces fines related to the tragedy. The building failure is a reminder of the dangers construction workers face.
Copper Lounge Collapse Killed One Worker
On December 2, 2016, workers were in the old Copper Lounge building in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, removing a load-bearing wall that separated the lounge and a former bar to make way for a pharmacy. During removal of the wall, the building collapsed. Twenty-four-year-old Ethan McMahon, who was working for Hultgren Construction, was killed in the collapse.
Emily Fodness was upstairs in an apartment during the building failure. She was trapped for three hours waiting for workers to rescue her.
Hultgren Construction, Command Center Fined More than $200,000 for Roles in Sioux Falls Building Collapse
In the months following the collapse, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued fines to both Hultgren Construction and Command Center, the temp agency that supplied labor for the building renovation. For its role in the building collapse, Hultgren Construction could pay fines of more than $100,000 linked to more than 20 violations. Command Center also faces fines of more than $100,000.
Among Hultgren Construction’s violations were those OSHA deemed “willful,” meaning the agency found Hultgren Construction knowingly failed to comply with the law or acted with indifference to employee safety. OSHA found that Hultgren workers were exposed to:
- Falls of up to 18 feet
- Crushing hazards
- Unsafe scaffolding
- Improper equipment training
- Lack of foot and head protection
“The employer had employees and temporary employees engaged in the removal of a load bearing wall and piled the brick and debris in different areas of the floor without ensuring the safe carrying capacities of the floor were not exceeded,” OSHA found. “This condition exposed employees to crushing hazards and fall hazards related to floor collapse.”
Both companies appealed the penalties, and a final decision on the appeals has not been made because of the pending criminal investigation. A spokesperson for OSHA said the Sioux Falls building collapse was preventable.
Hultgren Construction Could Face Criminal Charges over Fatal Structural Failure
Now, approximately a year after the tragedy that killed Ethan McMahon comes news that Hultgren Construction could face criminal charges for McMahon’s death and for its role in the building collapse.
“The secretary [for the Department of Labor] anticipates that the criminal investigation will continue for at least the next 90 days as the U.S. Attorney’s Office organizes and analyzes information related to the Dec. 2016 fatality,” wrote Senior Trial Attorney Jennifer Casey. “Given both the sensitivity and nature of the ongoing criminal investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is unable to place a precise timetable on when its investigation will be concluded.”
Included in the investigation of the Sioux Falls building collapse is a review of video, photographs, training materials, building permits, and emails that will hopefully shed light on how the renovation of the Copper Lounge could have gone so fatally wrong.
According to Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan, criminal charges are typically only made when contractors are found to not only be negligent, but reckless in their behavior.
Center City Building Collapse Also Results in Criminal Charges
If charges were filed against Hultgren Construction for the Sioux Falls building collapse, it wouldn’t be the first time charges were laid related to a construction accident. In February 2017, a jury found all five defendants linked to the Center City building collapse guilty.
Among those who were found guilty for their role in the Philadelphia structural failure that killed seven people and trapped 19, were Richard Basciano, who allegedly hired inexperienced contractors as a way of saving money; Plato A. Marinakos, Jr., the architect who oversaw the project and failed to send out adequate warnings of a possible building collapse; Griffin Campbell, who was not qualified to oversee demolition of the building; Sean Benscop, who performed demolition and was taking down the wall when the building collapsed; and the Salvation Army, who allegedly ignored the warnings they did receive about the potential for the building to fall.
The jury found four of the five defendants—all except Campbell—were negligent in their actions leading up to the disaster. The building collapse also resulted in heavy criticism regarding how the City of Philadelphia oversees construction projects. A city inspector committed suicide, although he was never named as being responsible for the collapse.