Victim of Berkeley Balcony Collapse Dies in Ireland
DUBLIN — A survivor of a balcony collapse that killed six students in Berkeley, Calif., in 2015 has died in a hospital in her native Dublin, her family said Monday. She was 27.
The woman, Aoife Beary, died “peacefully” after “a brave battle with her injuries sustained in the Berkeley balcony collapse in California” her family said in a death notice posted online. The Irish Times reported that Ms. Beary died in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, having suffered a stroke the previous week.
Ms. Beary was celebrating her 21st birthday with a group of friends on June 16, 2015, when the balcony of their rented fifth-floor apartment near the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, sheared off. Six students were killed after falling 40 feet to the ground, and seven others, including Ms. Beary, were left with serious and life-changing injuries.
Most of the victims were Dublin college students who had just arrived to spend a summer in the Bay Area on three-month work visas. The victims who died were five Irish students — Eimear Walsh, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster, Eoghan Culligan, and Olivia Burke — and a young American woman, Ashley Donohoe, Ms. Burke’s cousin.
Building inspectors later found that the wooden supports holding up the balcony had been eaten away by dry rot, even though the structure was less than 10 years old. It subsequently emerged that the contractors who built the complex, Segue Construction of Pleasanton, California, had paid $26.5 million in settlements for previous defect cases, but that this information had not been available to the state construction licensing authority or to clients.
A number of survivors, including Ms. Beary, successfully campaigned for a new law to make building code violations more transparent in California. Addressing a committee of the state legislature in Sacramento in 2016, a tearful Ms. Beary said she had suffered brain injuries that would change her life forever.
Ms. Beary and her friends had been close, having grown up together in south Dublin, and had previously summered in Vancouver, Thailand and Vietnam.
“I miss my friends so much,” she told the California lawmakers. “I had known them since we started school together at four years of age. We had grown up together. And now my birthday will always be their anniversary.”
“I had lacerations to my liver, kidneys and spleen,” Ms. Beary said. “I had a collapsed lung and broken ribs. I can’t believe why you’re even debating this bill. People died. You should ensure that all balconies are scrutinized in this state to prevent this from happening again.”
California’s attorney general decided not to bring criminal charges against the owners, management or builders of the apartment complex, who later settled legal claims brought in the name of 13 plaintiffs — the seven survivors and six people killed. In 2017 Segue settled with the state in a deal in which its building license was revoked for five years.
According to a lawsuit filed in California by the plaintiffs in 2017, Segue had used substandard wood composite to build the balconies, instead of the pressure-treated wood set out in the plans for the project, and the wood had not been properly waterproofed.
Despite the seriousness of her injuries, Ms Beary was able to graduate from University College Dublin with a degree in pharmacology a year after her accident.
The university’s dean of science, Professor Joe Carthy, said she had dealt with the accident with “great bravery and fortitude.” Her death, he said, “will rekindle memories of the six students who died in the Berkeley accident in June 2015, and our thoughts are with their families too.”