A project manager for a Fort Lauderdale demolition company was critically injured Monday as the demolition of the former Marlborough House condominium building in Miami Beach went wrong in ways that have not been publicly explained.
The entire building collapsed in a matter of seconds, sending debris flying as the area was enveloped in clouds of dust. The same debris that spread across Collins Avenue and shut down a main north-south artery through Miami Beach until Monday afternoon also smashed into Samuel Landis. Landis, 46, was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital and remained in critical condition as of late Monday afternoon.
Landis has started and operated several construction related businesses in Florida and Illinois over the last 20 years, including Omega Demolition from 2003 to 2013.
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Piles of rubble littered the site. Rescue workers from the Miami Beach, Miami and Miami-Dade fire departments conducted a search and rescue operation, but found no other victims.
“All of the construction workers were accounted for and as a precaution they deployed search and rescue dogs and cadaver dogs,” said Mayor Dan Gelber.
Brazilian developer Jose Isaac Peres bought the 13-floor, 1963 building at 5775 Collins Ave. and plans to replace it with a 19-story tower on the beachfront property. Thus, Monday’s demolition.
As for what went wrong, Multiplan Real Estate Asset Management, Peres’ development company, referred questions to contractor Winmar Construction, Inc. In a statement, Winmar described the incident as a “construction accident” that occurred “during the planned, approved and permitted demolition” conducted by subcontractor AlliedBean Demolition.
“We are working closely with City officials and industry agencies to understand what happened during Allied’s demolition of the structure,” Luis Leon, president of Winmar Construction, said in a statement that referred any questions about the incident to AlliedBean Demolition.
AlliedBean refused to make anyone available to answer questions about how its project manager wound up in critical condition.
The Miami Beach Police Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the incident while the Occupational Health and Safety Administration will also be investigating.
Miami Beach building inspectors have determined that the adjacent buildings were not impacted by the collapse, the city said in a statement. Air quality inspectors visited the site and confirmed that any asbestos risks were properly handled before demolition, Beach police said.
Building permit records show that the owner applied for an implosion permit in August 2017. That permit was denied because Miami Beach does not allow implosions, said Ana Salgueiro, the city’s building director. Then the owner applied for a regular demolition permit, which was issued on April 18, 2018.
A permit corrections report online describes the demolition as “total demolition of multi-family residential structure by conventional methods.”
Once a demolition permit is granted, construction crews can demolish the building whenever they’re prepared to do so without notifying the building department, Salgueiro said. In a letter sent to residents in a nearby building on July 20, the owner of the site said that demolition of “certain interior components” of the Marlborough House building had already been completed and that demolition of the main structure and remaining components could begin as soon as 8 a.m. on Monday, July 23.
“Demolition will continue to occur through conventional methods pursuant to the demolition permit issued by the City of Miami Beach,” Derrick Chin, the manager for property owner Miami Beach Associates LLC, said in the letter. “The work may take a couple of weeks to complete, and a portion of the building may remain until the work is completed.”
Winmar describes itself as a “full service construction management company and general contractor partner” and works mainly in Washington, D.C. and Miami. Its projects have been inspected eight times by OSHA since 2012 with varying results.
OSHA found no violations on the lone Miami project inspection, work on the Shelborne South Beach in 2014. But on Winmar’s most recent project inspection, in 2017, OSHA found three serious violations involving liquid petroleum and stairways and fined the company $13,942 on a Washington, D.C. project. Winmar negotiated the fine down to $9,062.
AlliedBean’s only OSHA inspection turned up no violations during a 2015 demolition of the old Crystal Lake Golf and Country Club clubhouse at 3800 Crystal Lake Dr. in Deerfield Beach. The Fort Lauderdale-based company was incorporated in 2012 by Liliana Alvarez and Kevin Bean, who remain the company’s two directors, according to business records.
AlliedBean’s website says, “Our number one priority is our commitment to protect the life and property on every AlliedBean project.”
Jason Kellogg, a partner at the law firm Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider & Grossman, said the accident could delay the construction project for months as experts try to determine what went wrong. (Kellogg does not represent any of the companies involved in the incident and spoke based on his expertise in construction litigation.)
“The engineers will come in now and try to analyze what happened, the forensic engineers, and figure out why it failed the way it did,” he said. “Obviously they’ll clean up the street, but they’re going to leave everything on the site to see how it fell.”
He said that in a densely populated area with numerous ongoing construction projects like Miami Beach, the incident should be a “safety wake-up call.”
Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report