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Victim in July balcony collapse sues property owner

deckcollapse6News of the March 26 collapse of a Tybee Island balcony brought back painful memories for Vivian Scott. The third floor deck at a house on 6th St on Tybee Island collapsed while several people where on it. It is the second time such an accident has occured on the island in the last year. Paula Williamson “I can still hear the crack of the deck and (smell) the smell of the silver queen corn we had just boiled,” said Scott, a Thunderbolt resident.

She still gets emotional about that Friday afternoon in early July 2003, when the balcony holding her and her family fell 20 feet to the ground.

Scott, 65, her husband, Bill, 67, and her mother, Thelma Lott, 87, were among nine injured by falling people, debris and an overturned pot of boiling water.

“I remember falling at my mother’s feet and seeing the blood trickle down her forehead,” Vivian Scott said.

She and Lott were transported to Memorial Health University Medical Center after the accident.

Vivian Scott cradles a portrait of her mother, Thelma Lott, who died as a result of injuries caused by the collapse of a balcony on Tybee Island shortly after the portrait was taken in July 2003. Scott Bryant Scott suffered a cracked sternum, fractured tibia and some broken toes. Other victims were treated for scrapes, bruises and minor fractures.

Lott was treated for third-degree burns to the right side of her body and back, plus a fractured wrist and hip. She was later transported to the Burn Center in Augusta.

Doctors there wanted to amputate her right arm. Her daughter decided to forgo the surgery.

“They knew if they took her to surgery, there was very little chance she’d make it out of the anesthetic,” Scott said.

Eleven days after the accident, Lott died.

Vivian Scott believes the accident robbed her of the remaining years she had with her mother.

Now, she’s suing the owners of No. 10 11th St., a property management company, the City of Tybee Island and the owners’ insurance company for damages.

“I just don’t want my mother to have died in vain,” Scott said. “She fought it. She didn’t want to go. She was 87, but still so active.”

The suit alleges property owners and managers failed to maintain the house or warn guests of potential danger, even though a defective stairway leading to the building had been barricaded.

The house is owned by William R. Craig, Henry Craig, Patrick Craig, James Craig and Carolyn Pruitt, who inherited the property.

William R. Craig’s real estate agency, Craig-Massee Realty of Milledgeville, is named as the property manager responsible for maintaining the site and leasing it to renters.

Thelma Lott died 11 days after the balcony in this portrait collapsed in July 2003. The photograph was taken about 30 minutes before the accident. Special The Craigs’ and Pruitt’s attorney, Stephen Sims, said Craig-Massee was not associated with the property.

“There’s a lot more to this case than I can explain in a phone call,” Sims said. “My clients have no liability to these people. I’d prefer to let the truth come out in the courts.”

The suit also places some fault for the house’s disrepair on the City of Tybee Island.

Vivian Scott believes the city failed to inspect the building’s structural integrity and permitted it to fall into a state of disrepair.

“Had the structural integrity of the porch been in compliance with building codes, it would have been sufficient to carry substantially more weight than was on the porch at the time it collapsed,” said Scott’s attorney Thomas Herndon.

The city has no record of any owner applying for a permit to build the addition, said city attorney Patrick O’Connor.

“The city denies liability,” he said. “The city didn’t built the deck. There’s no evidence the city even knew the deck had been built until after it collapsed.”

O’Connor will ask the court to dismiss the claim against the city in the next few weeks, he said.

Second incident

Victims of the March 26 accident have not yet moved to sue, said Dwight Feemster, who rented No. 7 Sixth St. on Tybee Island that weekend for his daughter and some of her friends.

The group had gathered at the three-story beach house before the teenagers’ prom at Savannah Christian Preparatory School.

Parents had just taken photographs of eight students on the top level overlooking the beach when the structure pulled away from the house and dropped onto the second-floor balcony.

Some 15 to 18 people involved suffered minor fractures, a broken tooth, a broken nose, scrapes, sprains and bruises.

Eight were transported to Memorial and one to St. Joseph’s/Candler Health Systems.

Rose Blanton, a parent, sustained the most serious injuries, a crushed heel which required surgery.

A single mother and secretary for Oliver, Maner & Gray law firm, Blanton expects to be confined to a wheelchair and a walker for eight weeks.

She said her sister from Winston-Salem, N.C. has taken time off to help Blanton with her home and children.

Blanton has missed two weeks of work, but has not hired an attorney.

“We’re in touch with the homeowner and determining what they will pay,” she said. “We’re trying not to jump the gun just yet.”

Feemster, an attorney whose practice focuses on personal injury complaints, has not filed a suit. However, he hired structural engineer David Sladek to determine if the balcony was up to code.

Sladek would not comment, but Feemster said the engineer’s report showed that four nails holding a center beam to the house bore most of the weight on the balcony.

According to codes in place at that time, the structure should hold 40 pounds per square inch, totalling 7,680 pounds for the 12-by-16-foot deck.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that those nails couldn’t hold that much weight,” Feemster said.

The current owner, O.C. Welch, declined to comment.

Tybee city council minutes for Sept. 10, 1999, show a variance granted to then owner Gordon Morrow to build only a 5-by-8-foot balcony over the edge of the building. The permit names C.E. Hall Construction as the contractor on the addition.

Morrow did not return calls from the Savannah Morning News.

Construction company owner Gene Hall said Morrow pulled the contract about 60 percent of the way through however.

“He decided to do the rest of the work himself,” Hall said.

“I live on Tybee,” he added. “I heard about what happened, and I was glad that we weren’t involved.”

Tybee Island City Marshal Chuck Bargeron said his responsibility as the head of city inspections department is only to uphold the code in place when structures are built.

The 6th Street house met those requirements, he said.

“Now, whether the code in the past isn’t stringent enough, I can’t do anything about that,” he said.

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