Berkeley balcony collapse will not result in criminal charges

Alameda County district attorney Nancy O’Malley said there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal manslaughter charges

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File photo: Workers remove part of a balcony that collapsed at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, California, killing six Irish students. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, file)

The balcony collapse that claimed the lives of six students in Berkeley, California last year will not result in criminal charges, the Alameda County district attorney has said.

Following a nine-month investigation, Nancy E. O’Malley said there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal manslaughter charges.

The investigation encompassed witness interviews, reviews of building plans, logs, inspection records and maintenance records, and involved investigators from multiple state agencies and industry experts.

In a statement, the district attorney's office said there were several contributory factors to the tragedy:

"The primary reason the balcony collapsed was because water had been trapped (or “encapsulated”) in the balcony deck during construction, leading to eventual and extensive dry rot damage. 

"There appear to be many contributory causes of this encapsulation, including the types of material that were used (none of which are prohibited by building code) and the very wet weather Berkeley experienced during the months of construction. 

"The responsibility for this failure likely extends to many of the parties involved in the construction or maintenance of the building."

The office said manslaughter charges could only be brought if a defendant could be proven to have shown "gross or reckless conduct akin to a disregard for human life, and that the deadly consequences of those actions were reasonably foreseeable."

"This is not a decision that I came to lightly," explained O’Malley.  "It is the culmination of months of consultation with my team of attorneys.  It follows extensive review of reports, both legal and factual, and numerous meetings with investigators and experts."

She also expressed her condolences those affected by the deaths and life-changing injuries, saying she was "keenly aware of the devastation and injuries each victim and each family suffered and continues to confront."

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said his Department "will carefully consider the details of the District Attorney’s findings."

"While the District Attorney’s investigation did not find sufficient proof to take separate criminal proceedings, it has shone a vital light on the circumstances and factors that contributed directly and indirectly to the collapse of the balcony," he said.

"This investigation is an important step in a process, the ultimate objective of which is to ensure that a tragedy such as Berkeley never occurs again."