LAKEWOOD, Ohio (WJW) — A grand jury has returned an indictment charging a construction company along with its owner and foreman in the collapse of a parking garage in Lakewood late last year, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office said.
Atlas Masonry Restoration and Maintenance, owner Elmer Mekker and foreman Charles Hawley are being charged with inducing a panic.
According to the indictment, the jurors found the defendants “did cause the evacuation of any public place, or otherwise cause serious public inconvenience or alarm by committing any offense, with reckless disregard of the likelihood in its commission would cause serious public inconvenience or alarm and resulted in economic harm of $150,000 or more.”
The collapse took place on Dec. 23, resulting in major damage to the Marine Towers West two-level underground parking structure, along with crushing dozens of cars. However, no one was reported injured in the incident.
The prosecutor’s office confirmed to FOX 8 the damages are estimated at over $1 million and that those indicted face up to 36 months in jail.
The company had been contracted to perform concrete repairs on the structure. The prosecutor’s office said Hawley and another employee had removed concrete around some of the supporting pillars in the lower level of the garage, leaving only rebar. About 18 hours later, the structure started to shake, which led to the collapse.
Lakewood police found in an investigation that plans to fully secure the pillars were non-existent.
The apartment building, which was built in 1963 and has 171 units, was evacuated at the time of the incident, with residents allowed to return the following day.
Marine Towers West is owned and operated by Burton Carol Management and has been for more than 25-years.
Joy Anzalone, Chief Operating Officer says, they are still dismayed by what happened because they’d worked with the contractor multiple times over the years.
“The owner had always done great work,” she said, “However you’re only as good as your last job and this was horrific for everybody.”
When asked how they feel about the indictments she said, “Relieved, we were confident that the city of Lakewood and entire investigative team was being incredibly thorough and that they would get to the truth and the bottom of what happened.”
The contractor’s actions also led to Burton Carol having to pay a $250 fine and plead no contest to a misdemeanor for failing for secure a work permit.
“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,” Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said in a statement. “Their poor decisions put hundreds of lives at risk, and they need to be held accountable for that.”
The construction company was also convicted last month of not securing a permit prior to their work on the garage in Lakewood Municipal Court.
An arraignment date has not yet been set in this new indictment.