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Chicago News Briefing on Deadly Porch Collapse

Aired June 29, 2003 - 15:08   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello now. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We want to take you to Chicago now, for an update on that tragic porch tragedy that led to the deaths of 12 people. Let's listen in.
CORTEZ TROTTER, EMERGENCY MGMT. DIRECTOR: Good afternoon. We've asked you to come back out today because we'd like to give you an update. As you are -- have already been informed, this morning at about 12:30 a chain reaction was caused by a third-floor porch that collapsed down onto the second floor and then down onto the first floor and into the stairwell. As a result, we reported this morning that there were 11 people that died here at the scene. We now, as a part of that update are reporting another person, another fatality, a person died at the hospital. We told you earlier that there were 45 people transported from this location by Chicago Fire Department ambulances. The report that we're receiving now, from people that walked into the hospitals from various locations, we're now up to 57 people injured as a result of this incident. We are prepared to give some reports from the Department of Buildings, from the Chicago Police Department, and answer any questions that you might have. So let's get started. We'll begin with the Department of Buildings, Commissioner Reyes.

NORMA REYES, CHICAGO BUILDING COMMISSIONER: Good afternoon, everybody. First I'd like to give my condolences to the family and friends of the people that were killed here last night, or died here last night. Our regards go, just immensely, out to their families.

Well, what I wanted to let you know is that L.G. Properties manage -- L.G. Properties who -- and the owner of L.G. Properties is a Phillip Pappas. He is the owner of the property, currently, he is out of the country. He's in Canada. We contacted the building manager last evening, a Jack Emery, he did reach out. We asked the building owner to hire, as we do require, the building owner to get a structural engineer's report. They, in fact, have hired a Swiss Janey Al Stern Associates to do a structural assessment of the building which will help us in obviously determining the cause of this terrible tragedy. We are currently conducting a thorough investigation. And, I want to stress that, that we're conducting a thorough investigation into the history of this building as well as the cause of this terrible tragedy.

We need your help, actually, and I'm really glad to see everybody here. We need to get this word out. Back in May I sent out a press release to remind people, because it was going toward summer, to remind people that porches are to come in and out of, egress and ingress is what we say, that you need to be careful and watch how many people you have on the porches. And, so I did send an -- a press release out in May. We need to get the word out, we need to let people know, we want you to know that we're canvassing the area currently because there are a lot of celebrations, obviously, going on in this area, 4th of July is right around the corner. And so, we're canvassing the area and giving information to people about having people on their porches.

I guess that's all I have right now. Sorry.

TROTTER: That's all right.

REYES: Thank you.

TROTTER: Superintendent Hillard.

First, we'd like to extend our sympathies to the families and the loved ones of all the victims.

TERRY HILLARD, CHICAGO POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: Area 3 Detective Division is currently conducting a death investigation of our 12 young folks who died last night. Commander Mike Chasten is the one who will be leading that investigation. Those interviews of the victims, and we have some victims that are still in the hospital, the detectives will be interviewing them so we can get a sense of what occurred last night and what went wrong. And, thus far there's no evidence of any criminal activity whatsoever. Now, right now, our main focus is to come up with a full account of what took place last night and along with the other city department, especially the building department, to assist them in any way that they need us. Our command post, the big command van that you saw, will be stationed out here until this incident is completely shut down. And, our policemen will be certain the egress and exits out here that will be covered while this is still a crime scene, as we consider it, of a death investigation, and we'll go from there.

TROTTER: Thank you, superintendent.

In addition to the command post that's still set up here, there is a command post for families to, if they want to come to the scene, if they have need to come to the scene, at 735 West Whitewood and the automatic offices of Alderman (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Daley. In addition, our 743-info number for people inquiring about loved ones or friends, if they still have questions that line continues to be available. Again, that's 743- I-N-F-O. 743-info. And that's a 312. We'll entertain any questions you have.

QUESTION: Could we ask Commissioner Reyes a question?

Commissioner, what do you know about the history of the porch itself? Was there a permit applied for when it was built, and when did that happen?

REYES: As, I said...

QUESTION: Please come close to the mike...

REYES: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. OK, I'm sorry.

As I said, we are looking at all the facts. We're looking at the investigation. We are not ready with all the facts to give you, because we're still investigating this and we're still looking into it. So, as soon as we get all that information, we will share it with you.


QUESTION: Is there any laws about numbers of people allowed to be on porches like this? Of any kind of statutes that govern it? And also, do you have any preliminary indications of any structural failures from the porch?

REYES: I have -- there -- to answer your second question; I have no indication of any structural problems or insufficiencies with the porch at this time. Again, I have awaiting that report. And, as to the second question, obviously, there are different formulas in terms of the size. There are a lot of different variables that come into play in terms of deciding how many people belong on a porch, and in terms of the size and the width and there are variables, there are different factors, and we can sort of assess the numbers. But, it is a formula. But, I cannot give you that right now.


QUESTION: Norma, there was a porch and safety program started by one of your predecessors, Mary Richardson Lowrie (PH), in 90 -- 1998, where she said there was going to be a concerted effort to step up inspections of porches, can you tell us anything about that? What kind of inspections are done annually of porches like this?

REYES: OK. What I can tell you is, actually, that we have a -- in fact a -- recently conducted a number, prior to yesterday or this morning's, date several hundred inspections of porches. Some of those cases were referred, some of the deficiencies we found in some of those cases were sent to administrative hearings and the cases that were extremely dangerous and hazardous, we referred to the Law Department for filing in housing court.


REYES: I'm sorry. I didn't hear you.

QUESTION: Can you tell us when these porches were built and who built them?

REYES: I cannot tell you about that at this time, no.

QUESTION: How do you find out about the inspections? Do you have people call you or do you have inspectors that come out and inspect porches routinely?

REYES: It's a combination, actually. It's a combination, of both. And again, too, I would encourage if anyone is out there and you see a porch and you think that that porch may be dangerous, please call 311 to give us that information so we can come out and inspect. If you're a resident, a tenant in a building, and you believe that your porch is dangerous, please call 311 so we can come out and inspect.


QUESTION: Do you know if this porch had a building permit, commissioner, and if it didn't, who was at fault for that?

REYES: I think, you know, actually, I answered that question already.

REPORTER: About building permits?

REYES: No. What I said is they we're still looking into all the facts and as soon as we have them we'll get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Some people have argued that porches such as these should have ratings on them for how many people they can accommodate and that those ratings should be posted on them as they are in commercial buildings, as they are in elevators, and likewise. Would you advocate something like that?

REYES: I -- you know what? I really -- I don't know if I would. I have to look at this and obviously, as you know, there are a lot of different variables that go into determining how many people should be -- in fact I have to remind people, porches are for egress and ingress, they're for coming in and out. As we said in May, when we sent out our press release, please be careful, please be cautious. The buildings are not made for large assemblies and parties.

QUESTION: So, what you're saying, Norma, is that even if the construction was very tight it can't take an unlimited number of people?

REYES: That's correct. Absolutely. That's absolutely correct.

QUESTION: Any problems with L.G. Properties before? Did they have a record at all, Norma?

REYES: Again, I am looking into that. I am -- we're investigating to see if there's any -- if they own any other property. We want to get -- we're asking the same questions, obviously, that you're asking, and we want to give you the information that we have and the facts and the best facts and the real facts. So, please give us time to do that.

QUESTION: Cortez, a question for you. Can you take us through a little bit, your men and women arrived here this morning and had to begin extricating people. Can you take us through that? What was the timing of that? I know your people were here very quickly, but how hard was it to get everybody out of here?

TROTTER: Well, I think that, first, before I answer that, let me say and remind people that we do have counselors on duty, we're working with the American Red Cross, as well as, the Department of Human Services, and counselors are available for people, for family members and friends. And again, call that number, 743-info.

In answer to your question, I think that it's -- that the fire department and the police department did a -- an admirable job in coming in and right away going to work, cutting away the debris and freeing the people that were trapped. I believe sincerely that if it had not been for them going to work as quick as they did and the use of the thermal imaging camera and other devices that they had available to them, we could be standing here talking about more fatalities than we are. So, going to work right away when they came on the scene and then providing support through the other departments, I think the coordinated effort of all of the departments made a big difference, here.

QUESTION: Tell us about that thermal imaging effort. Were a lot of people underneath the debris and you couldn't see them?

TROTTER: Well, the thermal imaging was used as a -- once the fire department finished their search, just to ensure or make sure that they hadn't missed anyone or to make sure that the debris wasn't hiding anyone, then they did a couple of sweeps with the thermal imaging camera, as well.

QUESTION: Did you find people that way?

TROTTER: No, they had actually extracted everyone before they needed to use that.


TROTTER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Why are you labeling this a crime scene?

TROTTER: Well, Superintendent?

HILLARD: 12 deaths occurred here and until we complete our complete investigation, along with the Building Department and other respective departments in the city, it's considered a -- it's considered a death investigation.

QUESTION: And, Mr. Superintendent, if in fact there are more people on there than were allowed, is that a crime? Is someone libel for that potentially criminally?

HILLARD: That's something that would have to be determined by the Building Department and the Law Department.

QUESTION: How many people do you think were on the porch...

TROTTER: Well, we have no idea and to -- well, to speculate on that is unfair. It's unfair to the investigation, it's unfair to the people that lost their lives here, and to the people that were injured, because we would be speculating without having all of the facts in. The interviews, the interviews continue and so allow us to finish up the investigation, and then we will come back with the facts.

QUESTION: Going back to Jeff's question, when he said more than are allowed, since these porches are not rated for occupancy, there really is no number for more than are allowed.

TROTTER: Well, see, and that's why we've stressed here, allow us to get the facts together first, so that we can make some determination that's both realistic and reasonable for everybody. Alderman Daley would like to make an -- make a announcement, as well.

QUESTION: Are these porches unique in any way to Chicago?

TROTTER: Not that I know of. I mean, I haven't visited every city in the country, but these porches, like any other material that's built, has its limitations. As, you mentioned earlier and so we need to abide by those -- Alderman Daley.

QUESTION: And, after the E2 -- after the E2 tragedy, do you have any thoughts now, this happening so quickly afterward?

TROTTER: Well, I think that what we should keep in mind is there are several young people that lost their lives here this morning, and so our thoughts and prayers should be aimed toward that and allowing the professionals here to get the investigation done as quickly as possible and coming up with answers so that we can -- whatever the outcome, that we would be assured that something like this doesn't happen again -- Alderman Daly.

QUESTION: Is the info number an out -- outgrowth of the E2 tragedy and trying to coordinate efforts to -- so people can find out about victims or...

TROTTER: Well, it would -- we do have -- we did have prior to that, numbers in place where they'd make it streamlined and then make it more simple as a result of that, and it has worked well for us today -- Alderman.

VI DALEY, 43rd WARD ALDERMAN: Thank you very much. First of all, what I'd like to do today is thank the Fire Department, the Police Department, the Building Department, and the neighbors, the restaurants, and the businesses in the community. They all came together on this very tragic day. So, I'm very proud that -- that there was such a outpouring of people here to help, and I also want to let you know that I'm opening up a relief fund for the victims of this terrible day, and through the North Community Bank, which is at 12 -- 2500 North Clark Street, or in a -- they can make a donation at any of the 18 North Community Bank branches. Thank you.

QUESTION: Vi, can you tell us anything about the ordinances that's are already on the books about this? Or, is there anything already on the books about this kind of thing or is there going to be an effort, do you think, to strengthen any existing ordinance, as it relates to porches? Vi or Norma?

REYES: I think it's premature. Let us review it.

REPORTER: Can you step to the microphone, please?

REYES: I'm sorry. Whoops. What I answer to your question is I think it's premature. We need to review the ordinances obviously, and see if there's something -- if there's something that we need. And again, I would ask that you give us the opportunity to look so that we can provide you with all the information necessary. As I told you, you know, this tragedy happened in the early morning hours. I don't -- actually, I don't have to tell you because a lot of you know that. In the early morning hours, there's a lot of work that has happened already here. There are a lot of people that needed to be contacted, so let us get the information, and we will get it to you forthwith. Thank you.

TROTTER: Thank you. Thank you.


QUESTION: What's going to happen with the porch now? How does it work from here?

REPORTER: Could you step to the mike, please?

WHITFIELD: Well, you've been listening to various officials out of Chicago from the commissioner of the Department of Buildings to the superintendent of the Police Department, as well as, the director of Emergency Management say that they are just starting to piece together the investigation of the porch that seemed to fall, resulting in the deaths of 12 people and injuring -- now the injury list seen higher. At first it was 45, and now it's 57 people who have been injured in that. Most of them were college students who were out at a -- at a party at this apartment building. And, now investigators want to know exactly why so many people were on the porch at one time.

Our Jeff Flock is there on the ground, and you were there listening to the officials there. And Jeff, now, in addition to tracking down the owner of this building they've got an awful lot of questions about inspections and the stability of the porch and why so many people were on it at one time.

JEFF FLOCK, CHICAGO BUREAU CHIEF: Well, that's one of the focuses, obviously, right now, looking at what could have caused this. Was this just simple stupidity, too many people on the decks, or is there some sort of structural problem with it? As you heard from the commissioner, they still haven't made an initial determination of that, but the things they'll not looking at, for example, are those sill plates back there, the ones that hold the decks to the building itself. They'll want to know, are those sill plates in fact big enough, do they meet code, are the anchors that they put in the masonry, were they properly attached, were the bolts that hold it in big enough? It's those sorts of things they'll be look at, because -- you know, we obviously ask the superintendent is there a potential crime committed here? Obviously, if there's some negligence, potentially there is. So that's what everybody wants to know, and of course the other question, as was pointed out, these porches are everywhere in Chicago perhaps they're everywhere across the country, but particularly here in Chicago a lot of old porches, a lot of new porches, and if there's a problem with them somehow, I think everybody wants to know about it.

WHITFIELD: And Jeff, we didn't hear it expressed during this press conference about the age of these porches or even the building. From the rear, of course, it doesn't look like it's a very modern, new building, but that is indeed a crime scene as they describe. How old is that building? How old are those porches believed to be?

FLOCK: Yeah, they were unable to give us an age on the porch. Based on the way it looks to those of us who have looked at it with the naked eye, as well as, some of the people that live nearby here, it's a fairly new porch. If you look up and down this alley, there are a lot old porches, you can tell they're painted and looking kind of rotten. This one -- it looked fairly new. The building itself, however, is an old building. You can tell that it's been tuck pointed, it's been renovated. It's a fairly new building and presumably the porch is new, as well. That's why it puts all the more focus on this, some of the porch collapses we've had in Chicago in the past have been old porches, it sort of rotted and collapsed. This one looks like a new one, so if there's a problem with this one, potentially it's a structural problem that took place during the construction of the porch.

WHITFIELD: So no doubt, Jeff, the questions will not only be addressed to the owner of that building, but as well to the builders of that building, if that is indeed the case. Jeff Flock, thanks very much from Chicago.

So, the latest update coming from Chicago officials, the death toll from that porch collapse, 12, and at least 57 injured. More news later.


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