By Charlie Neibergall, Scott McFetridge and Hannah Fingerhut
The bodies of three men have been removed from the site of a collapsed six-story apartment building in Davenport, Iowa, about a week after part of the century-old structure tumbled to the ground, the city's police chief announced Monday.
“We don’t have any other information at this time that there are any additional people missing,” Chief Jeff Bladel said.
As officials were announcing the recovery of the bodies, the first of what could be numerous lawsuits by residents and their families was filed. Tenant Dayna Feuerbach is accusing the city of Davenport and the building's current and former owners of knowing of the deteriorating conditions and failing to warn residents of the risk.
The lawsuit alleges multiple counts of negligence, seeks unspecified damages and notes that additional suits are likely.
“The city had warning after warning,” attorney Jeffrey Goodman said in an interview with The Associated Press. He called it a common trend in major structural collapses he’s seen. “They had the responsibility to make sure that the safety of the citizens comes first. It is very clear that the city of Davenport didn’t do that.”
The police chief said Branden Colvin Sr.’s body was recovered Saturday. The body of Ryan Hitchcock was recovered Sunday and Daniel Prien early Monday. City officials had said earlier that Colvin, 42; Hitchcock, 51; and Prien, 60; had “high probability of being home at the time of the collapse.”
The discoveries came after authorities announced that the search for survivors had been completed. The remains of the apartment building were constantly in motion in the first 24 to 36 hours after it collapsed on May 28, putting rescuers at great risk, but since the area has been stabilized, crews were using an excavator and other heavy equipment to pull out parts of a debris pile.
Davenport officials said they were consulting with experts about how to safely bring down the rest of the structure. The city fire marshal earlier said explosives would not be used because it’s close to other buildings in a busy part of downtown Davenport.
Clothing hanging in an apartment building that partially collapsed on Sunday afternoon can be seen Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
Mayor Mike Matson said last week that any complaints about the rescue and recovery process should be directed at him, not first responders.
Matson said Monday that neither he nor other city officials have been in touch with building owner Andrew Wold.
Wold released a statement dated May 30 saying “our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants.” He has made no statement since then, and efforts to reach him, his company and a man believed to be his attorney have been unsuccessful.
County records show Davenport Hotel L.L.C. acquired the building in a 2021 deal worth $4.2 million.
Bladel said the Davenport fire marshal’s office had begun an investigation of the building collapse with help from the state Division of Criminal Investigation, Davenport police and the medical examiner’s office.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds toured the site Monday morning, and tweeted later that the state is providing support and resources while working with city officials. “Thank you to the first responders for putting their lives at risk to help their community,” she wrote.
The building, built as a hotel in 1907, had been converted into about 80 apartment units that were home to roughly 50 people.
The state earlier made $5,000 available to displaced tenants who met income requirements, and the city offered $6,000 to the people forced from their homes. On Monday, the governor also waived the fees for tenants who needed to get their driver’s license replaced.
On Friday, Scott County prosecutor Kelly Cunningham cautioned against assuming a criminal prosecution is appropriate, saying an independent investigation needs to be conducted into the cause of the building’s structural failure, and right now it’s in the city’s jurisdiction.
Lexus Berry photographed a crack that appeared in the wall of her fourth-floor apartment just moments before the six-story building partially collapsed in Davenport, Iowa, on May 28, 2023. A structural engineer's report indicated a wall of a century-old apartment building in Iowa was at imminent risk of crumbling, yet neither the owner nor city officials warned residents of the danger days before the building partially collapsed. (Lexus Berry via AP)
Unresolved questions include why neither the owner nor city officials warned residents about potential danger. A structural engineer’s report issued days before the collapse indicated a wall of the century-old building was at imminent risk of crumbling.
Documents released by the city show that city officials and the building’s owner had been warned for months that parts of the building were unstable.
The lawsuit filed Monday also names two companies hired by Wold to assess and perform work on the building. The suit alleges all parties “recognized the imminent danger residents faced, yet allowed the building to deteriorate while failing to warn residents that their lives were in danger.”
The Bettendorf-based engineering firm, whose engineer David Valliere filed reports on the condition of the building as recently as May 24, was included in the lawsuit because “they have an affirmative responsibility to sound the alarm of urgency and take all steps they can to make sure this building is evacuated for safety,” Goodman said. “We see their role in this tragedy to be unfortunately central.”
Tenants also complained to the city in recent years about a host of problems they say were ignored by property managers, including no heat or hot water for weeks or even months at a time, as well as mold and water leakage from ceilings and toilets. While city officials tried to address some complaints and gave vacate orders to individual apartments, a broader evacuation was never ordered, records show.
Current and former residents told The Associated Press about interior cracks on the wall that ultimately collapsed that were reported to building management. One woman whose apartment ended up in a huge pile of rubble had to have her leg amputated in order to be rescued.
Associated Press Contributors include Scott McFetridge and Hannah Fingerhut in Des Moines.