Only six months before its wooden deck would collapse — injuring two dozen patrons watching the Miami Heat game— North Bay Village’s landmark Shuckers Bar and Grill had been given its required 40-year inspection by a professional engineer.
Engineer Steven Jawitz told village officials the building and its electrical system were structurally sound. His inspection didn’t include the deck — but Jawitz says it didn’t have to.
“Waterfront and ancillary are not part of the inspection,” he told the Miami Herald on Friday.
North Bay Village officials now are questioning Jawitz’s interpretation of his 30-page report.
“In the report, he mentions the deck as part of the evaluation,” said North Bay Village Public Works Director Rodney Carrero.
City officials were unable to immediately produce the report on Friday, though they did say it was signed off by City Building Official Raul Rodriguez.
Florida’s building code requires a building that has been in existence for 40 years to be inspected. In 2011, North Bay Village notified Shuckers that the inspection was due, and on Jan. 22 of this year, Jawitz submitted his inspection on behalf of Shuckers’ owner, Inn on the Bay, records show.
Inn on the Bay company representative Charles Grentner did not return phone calls, but the Grentner family released a brief statement saying it was “dismayed” over the deck’s collapse.
“The family’s thoughts and best wishes are with their customers and employees, the emergency workers and all their families,” the statement said. “Their focus is on insuring that the injured are given the care they need and in assisting the government agencies investigating the event.”
The questions surrounding whether a deck inspection took place are particularly significant because other public records obtained Friday suggest that the deck may have been in need of an upgrade.
Beginning in late 2009, the restaurant’s owners spent thousands of dollars to acquire permits for a massive renovation project that would essentially rebuild the 120-by-30-foot wooden deck, which juts out into Biscayne Bay.
Then, for reasons that remain unclear, that project seems to have been abandoned. North Bay Village has no record of a final inspection.
Why did the owners want to rebuild the deck? Was any of the planned work ever done? Those questions remained unanswered Friday.
At the home of Chris Grentner — another family member who has previously identified himself as an owner — a woman who identified herself as Chris Grentner’s fiancee would only say that Grentner had been at the restaurant all day, “involved in the investigation.”
For now, police say they have ruled out potential causes such as criminal activity or overcrowding. Though Shuckers’ roughly two dozen flat-screen televisions had attracted a large crowd for the game between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, there were no televisions placed on the deck itself. Most patrons were inside watching the game, not standing on the deck, according to police.
“We are at the moment investigating the structure,’’ North Bay Village Police Chief Bob Daniels said during an afternoon news conference. “The engineers are taking a closer look at it. They are certain it is some type of a structural incident.”
The wooden patio cracked at 9:48 p.m. Thursday, then quickly split in a V-shape and plunged several feet with a roar into shallow waters. Callers to 911 said as many as 100 people were on the deck, behind the Best Western Plus on the Bay Inn & Marina, 1819 79th Street Causeway.
Miami-Dade police released those 911 calls on Friday.
“Please, there’s an emergency here...the whole deck fell into the water and I don’t know if people are OK!” one female patron told a Miami-Dade fire rescue dispatcher.
Two dozen people were injured, and paramedics took 15 to the hospital, including two in serious condition to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center. As of Friday, only one person remained at Jackson, according to a hospital spokesman, who said the patient asked the hospital not to release any other information.
The incident grabbed national attention, and Heat guard Dwyane Wade mentioned it during his post-game comments.
“We share our concerns for all who were injured tonight at Shuckers restaurant,” he said.
Fire rescue crews extended ladders to help people climb to safety and searched Biscayne Bay after receiving frantic phone calls that loved ones might be missing. No one was.
On Friday, customers injured in the deck’s plunge returned to Shuckers to try and recoup their lost belongings, like purses and cell phones. The restaurant was closed for business.
Flavia Ellemberger arrived with a cervical collar, stitches on her forehead and one hand covered in plaster. She said she was eating with her husband and 6-year-old son when the deck caved in.
“I remember everybody was screaming and myself going down,” she said. When I could move I was under the water with a table on top.”
She said her son was not injured, but cried at the sight of her bloodied face.