Construction company, owner, foreman plead not guilty to criminal charges for garage collapse at Lakewood apartment building

Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 8:50 AM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Atlas Masonry Restoration and Maintenance, their owner and the foreman all pleaded not guilty in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Thursday for their roles in the December 2021 parking garage collapse at the Marine Towers West apartment building in Lakewood.

Owner Elmer Mekker, 55, foreman Charles Hawley, 52, and the company are all charged with one count of inducing panic.

“It is a miracle that the recklessness displayed, not only by Atlas Masonry but the owner and foreman in charge, did not result in serious injury or death,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley. “Their poor decisions put hundreds of lives at risk, and they need to be held accountable for that.”

According to court records, the company started working on the parking garage pillars around 3 p.m. on Dec. 22.

Workers removed the concrete around two support pillars on the lower level of the parking garage, leaving only exposed rebar to support the structure, said O’Malley.

On Dec. 23, about 18 hours after the work had been completed, the first floor of the parking garage collapsed through to the sub-floor below, said O’Malley.

O’Malley added there were no injuries, but 60 seconds before the collapse, a person exited the parking garage in their vehicle.

Lakewood police officers said the company had no plans to brace or shore the pillars during the repair work and no building permits were obtained.

“On the day of the collapse, I committed that the City of Lakewood would not rest until we got to the bottom of what happened,” said Lakewood Mayor Meghan F. George, who also serves as the City’s Safety Director. “Our exhaustive investigation revealed that the collapse was no accident. In reality, it was caused by outrageous conduct by Atlas Construction and its leadership, who had zero regard for the safety of the residents of Marine Towers West.”

The next court date is scheduled for June 21.

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