Experts conduct destructive testing on Berkeley balconies in presence of witnesses

Alvin Wu/File

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The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office conducted destructive testing in the presence of relevant witnesses as part of its investigation into the cause of the balcony collapse that killed six and injured seven in Berkeley in June.

To “ensure fairness” for potential litigation that could follow, the district attorney’s office permitted several representatives of the victims’ families, the building owner and construction companies to observe the testing. Independent experts on structural engineering, waterproofing and architecture administered the tests to analyze the “process in which (the balconies) were constructed,” according to Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Teresa Drenick in an email.

Berkeley city officials announced in June that the wooden beams supporting the collapsed balcony had been exposed to dry rot.

Segue Construction, Inc., the contractor responsible for building the apartment complex, has been accused in previous lawsuits of failing to meet state and local construction codes in waterproofing breezeways, stairwells and balconies in other projects.

Relevant components of the building were removed for the tests under the direction of the independent experts while the balconies themselves were moved from their previous location in Alameda County to a secure location where they could be compared side by side.

UC Berkeley law school professor Mark Gergen said that where construction was concerned, litigation could potentially fall on many different parties.

“All these entities (exist) — subcontractor, general contractor, material suppliers. There could be a manufacturing architect,” Gergen said. “Typically what happens is plaintiffs sue just about everybody.”

In the event that litigation occurs, city spokesperson Matthai Chakko said in an email that the district attorney’s office has “a range of tools, resources and avenues (parties) can pursue, including those under criminal, civil and consumer protection law.”

In the meantime, scientists will forensically analyze the extracted materials at an independent laboratory in order to find the source of the water infiltration.

Contact Cassandra Vogel at [email protected].