When permit records for an Iowa building that collapsed this past weekend were mysteriously changed after the tragedy, city officials blamed a “computer glitch”. Skeptical members of the community aren’t convinced it was a mistake.
Five tenants are still unaccounted for after a large portion of a six-storey apartment complex in Davenport fell down on Sunday night. Authorities have said they now face a challenging decision as engineers warned another collapse of the remaining structure is “imminent” - but at least two men, Ryan Hitchcock and Branden Davis, are feared to be trapped in the existing wreckage.
The announcement of demolition plans less than 24 hours after the collapse, before city officials even acknowledged they had been unable to locate several residents, sparked outrage within the community who as protesters gathered at the site. The eleventh-hour rescue of a tenant who had passed out under a couch and awoke to the sound of family yelling her name also heightened concern that the men could be alive under the rubble.
Fire Marshall Jim Morris said rescue teams had attempted to go search for the unaccounted but the brittle structure was shifting, while experts advised the city to conduct a full demolition to avoid more people potentially being injured. Several pets were rescued during additional operation on Tuesday night within portions of the building that were deemed safe enough, but there was no human activity detected.
The cause of the collapse has not been determined. But tenants had long complained about several issues with the building, including water leakage and hairline cracks on the walls. The week before the collapse, bricks were reportedly falling off the building’s exterior.
The structure was undergoing permitted repairs at the time of the collapse, officials said. Last year, nearly 20 permits were filed, mainly for plumbing or electrical issues, according to the Associated Press.
A permit’s inspection for “framing before cover” appeared to be approved when the complex came down around 5pm on Sunday but now appears as “failed” on the City of Davenport website, local news station KWQC first reported.
When confronted about the change, a city spokesperson told the outlet that it was due to a “computer glitch” but denied a Freedom of Information Act request for the physical documents.
The Independent has reached out to the city for comment.
The city has been in contact with the building owner Andrew Wold, Mr Morris said on Tuesday. State agencies are coordinating what agency will take the lead in the investigation but no criminal charges have been filed so far.
Iowa court records reviewed by The Independent on Wednesday show that Mr Wold and Davenport Hotel LLC are listed as defendants in a civil enforcement action brought by the City of Davenport on 30 May. Mr Wold was given a $300 fine for failing to keep the building “safe, sanitary and structurally sound condition,” WQAD reports.
Despite a myriad of reports from past and current tenants that the building’s conditions were unsafe, a structural engineer hired by the owner deemed the structure safe, officials said. According to a profile published in The Quad-City Times in 2016, Mr Wold is an avid real estate buyer with a large portfolio.
“I like to buy blocks,” he said at the time. “I like to be able to control the area, to kind of police it.”
A working phone number for Mr Wold was not immediately available. The Independent has also contacted an attorney for the leasing company that managed the collapsed building.