- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - The city of Sioux Falls will not investigate the case of a building collapse that killed a construction worker and injured a woman Friday, relying instead on federal safety inspectors to find out the cause of the incident, officials said Monday.

Emergency manager Regan Smith said the building in downtown Sioux Falls has been classified as destroyed, and an adjacent building that houses a nightclub has major structural damage as a result of the collapse. Another building has shown signs of minor damage.

“The city is not conducting any investigation in this matter,” Smith said during a press conference Monday. “The investigations will be done by the property owner, their representatives or their insurance. I understand (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) will probably be here. … The city really just doesn’t have any interest in the investigation.”

The three-story brick building, built in 1916, had housed a bar and was being remodeled into a drugstore when it collapsed Friday morning. Construction worker Ethan McMahon was killed and 22-year-old Emily Fodness was trapped under rubble for three hours before being rescued. Emergency personnel also rescued three dogs.

The city issued a limited permit authorizing Hultgren Construction to remove furnishings, floor coverings, ceiling tiles and the existing bar area. The permit did not give the company approval to do any structural changes.

“If they thought that they were going to take 70, 80 feet of wall out without structural support, they were crazy,” the city’s chief building officer, Ron Bell, told the Argus Leader newspaper.

The attorney for Aaron Hultgren, Hultgren Construction’s owner, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the incident Monday.

Scott Allen, a spokesman for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said agency inspectors will determine what caused the building to crumble and whether Hultgren Construction was following accepted safety standards. The agency’s investigation could take weeks and will involve interviews of potential witnesses, company executives, and employees who worked at the site, as well as inspections of the scene and company records.

OSHA could fine the company if it is found to have been in violation of regulations.

Sioux Falls officials on Monday said the building and its remains have been turned over to the contractor and that the city would maintain security of the site.

Friday’s collapse required the participation of more than 120 first responders. A dog trained to assist in emergencies was transported by helicopter to Sioux Falls from Rapid City to help in the search operation.

“Our hearts are breaking for the family of Ethan McMahon, and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with them,” Fodness’s family said in a statement. “We thank everyone for their ongoing support during this time. Our sincere gratitude goes out to all the emergency responders for the safe rescue of our daughter and our three dogs. Emily is now with us and resting. We ask that you continue to respect our privacy in the coming days.”


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