- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A California prosecutor has decided against filing criminal charges in a fifth-story balcony collapse in Berkeley last year that killed six students from Ireland and injured seven other people, officials said Tuesday.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said she made her decision after a nine-month investigation that involved state officials and independent experts from the building industry.

Investigators determined that water infiltration at the time the balcony was built brought on dry rot and eventually the collapse during a party on June 16.

The probe also encompassed witness interviews and a review of building plans, logs, inspection and maintenance records.

O’Malley said there was insufficient evidence of any criminal negligence to bring manslaughter charges.

“This is not a decision that I came to lightly,” O’Malley said.

In November, families of those killed and injured filed 12 lawsuits accusing builders of negligence and seeking unspecified damages.

San Francisco legal firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, which represents five of the families, said in a statement Tuesday that criminal charges were not expected given the high burden of proof needed.

Still, the firm said the investigation will benefit the bereaved families and injured students as they pursue the lawsuits.

“It remains our clients’ quest to uncover the truth, to hold those responsible accountable, and to bring about changes to industry practices to prevent such a needless tragedy from recurring,” the statement said.

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said in a statement that he also would review the findings.

“My department will carefully consider the details,” his statement said. “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 went on to say the investigation was an important step in preventing similar tragedies.

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said his department remains in close contact with the families and will continue to offer them support and assistance.

A central component of the investigation involved what is called “destructive testing” of the balconies and the building itself.

An outside construction company transported the balconies to a warehouse for the testing. O’Malley said the testing was observed by representatives of the victims and their families, as well as representatives of companies involved in the construction, maintenance, and ownership of the apartment complex.

Tests showed the dry rot damage was brought on by materials used and the extremely wet weather in Berkeley when the building was constructed.

O’Malley said the responsibility likely extends to many of the parties involved in construction or maintenance of the building.

The district attorney’s office intends to work with the California Contractors State License Board in any administrative action pursued against the construction companies and will collaborate with industry leaders and state legislators to consider amending building codes and inspection oversight laws.


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