Construction company, owner indicted in Lakewood apartment parking deck collapse
CLEVELAND, Ohio — A grand jury has brought felony charges against a construction company, its owner and a project foreman in the December collapse of a parking deck at a high-rise apartment building in Lakewood.
Atlas Masonry Restoration and Maintenance, its owner Elmer Mekker and foreman Charles Hawley are each accused of inducing panic, according to an indictment handed down Wednesday.
The charge is a third-degree felony, which is connected to their work on the underground parking deck at Marine Towers West apartments on Edgewater Drive on Lakewood’s Gold Coast.
Attempts to reach the company were unsuccessful.
The company that manages the apartment building hired Atlas Masonry for concrete repairs to its parking deck in November, but the company did not pull a permit before it began the work, prosecutors said.
Hawley and a co-worker stripped concrete off of the pillars that held up the structure on Dec. 21, but they did not put any additional support to brace the columns, leaving only exposed rebar, prosecutors said.
The structure collapsed 18 hours later, prosecutors said.
No one was in the parking deck when it collapsed, but prosecutors said a driver left the garage less than a minute before it collapsed.
Officials ordered residents of the high-rise tower to evacuate their apartments for 24 hours.
“It is a miracle that the recklessness displayed, not only by Atlas Masonry but the owner and foreman in charge, did not result in serious injury or death,” Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said in a statement. “Their poor decisions put hundreds of lives at risk, and they need to be held accountable for that.”
Lakewood Mayor Meghan George said in a statement that she asked O’Malley’s office to pursue felony charges “once the facts involve became clear.”
“Our exhaustive investigation revealed that the collapse was no accident,” George’s statement said. “In reality, it was caused by outrageous conduct by Atlas [Masonry] and its leadership, who had zero regard for the safety of the residents of Marine Towers West.”
Prosecutors charged the company with a subsection of the inducing panic law that outlaws causing “the evacuation of any public place, or otherwise causing serious public inconvenience or alarm by committing any offense, with reckless disregard of the likelihood that its commission would cause serious public inconvenience or alarm and result in economic harm of $150,000 or more.”
The company was charged in January in Lakewood Municipal Court with failure to secure a proper permit, and Mekker pleaded no contest in April. A judge convicted the company and imposed a $1,500 fine with $500 suspended and placed the company on one year of probation.