Protest demands justice in Iowa apartment building collapse

By Willie Cotton
July 3, 2023
Protest June 7 at Davenport, Iowa, City Hall, with partially collapsed apartment building in back, demands owner, city officials be held responsible for deaths, injuries, loss of homes.
Nikos Frazier/Quad City Times via APProtest June 7 at Davenport, Iowa, City Hall, with partially collapsed apartment building in back, demands owner, city officials be held responsible for deaths, injuries, loss of homes.

The Davenport, a 116-year-old apartment building in downtown Davenport, Iowa, partially collapsed May 28, killing Branden Colvin Sr., 42; Ryan Hitchcock, 51; and Daniel Prien, 60; and injuring many others. Fifty tenants lost their homes and possessions in the 78-unit building that stood near City Hall.

Less than 24 hours later, city officials announced demolition of the building would begin the next day, that efforts were transitioning from rescue to recovery. A growing angry crowd who still had friends and family trapped in the building gathered there. Then resident Lisa Brooks called her daughter to say that she was still on the fourth floor. She waved out the window to cheers from her family and the crowd below who chanted, “get her out.”

After Brooks’ rescue 150 people protested demanding “find them first.” Five people were still unaccounted for. City officials backed off. Several days later, after everyone in the building was accounted for, demolition began.

Quanishia “Peach” White Berry and Lexus Berry told the media they were sitting in their apartment and saw a crack open above the bathroom door. They grabbed their cats to leave. Lexus made it to the door as the building collapsed, but Peach was buried. Lexus can be heard saying, “My wife is in there,” while officials were giving a press conference. Six hours later rescuers had to amputate her leg above the knee to free her from the rubble.

“I don’t know that anyone can anticipate a building collapsing,” Mayor Mike Matson insisted.

But in January 2020 a building inspector wrote that dangerous conditions at the building might mean closing it down. Over the next two years, photos show bricks missing and crumbling, cracks in the walls and evidence of water damage throughout the building.

Tenants complained to authorities about not having heat or hot water, of leaks and mold. Shauna Dixon told The Associated Press that the wall in her apartment bowed and the window frame pulled away from the wall. When Dixon notified building management, “nothing came from it,” she said.

This February new problems were found. Ryan Shaffer from R. A. Masonry, who bid to do work there, told the Quad City Times, that owner Andrew Wold “wanted to cut the cost by cutting out the shoring and supporting of the building. I said, ‘If we don’t do it this way exactly, I’m not putting my guys in there. Somebody is going to die.’”

Wold restarted work himself in April, and passed city inspections on April 12, April 21, and May 1. Up to hours before the collapse Shaffer warned Wold’s workers to get away, that the building was dangerous. No one warned the tenants.

Under pressure, Davenport authorities released documents showing years of complaints and violations at the building, and that city authorities knew about the dangerous state of the building and did nothing. This puts the lie to the mayor’s claim that “no one could have anticipated the disaster.”

As of June 18 the only action against Wold has been fines of $300 and $95 in court fees.

Some 100 people protested outside the June 7 City Council meeting. “Being out here and telling the city leaders that they will be held accountable is really important right now,” Christina Castaneda told the Times. “It starts with who owned the building, but this goes to the people who allowed that building to be occupied.”

Willie Cotton was born and raised in the Quad Cities and knows people who were in the building.