Editor’s note:Two off-duty Miami Beach police officers were working at a demolition site Monday, stopping traffic on Collins Avenue before each procedure to bring down a 13-story condo, the project’s contractor said Friday in an account that differed from what city officials told the Miami Herald.
When the former Marlborough House collapsed, sending debris into the street, a chunk of concrete struck and gravely injured a project manager standing in the street. The man later lost his leg. A stretch of the normally busy street was littered with more jagged pieces of concrete.
The Herald reported Friday that the actions of an off-duty officer may have prevented further injuries when he spotted something wrong at the demolition site and flagged down a nearby fire engine for help in blocking traffic on the busy street. The story quoted Miami Beach Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán, who detailed the officer’s role during a discussion of the building collapse at Thursday’s commission meeting.
The project’s general contractor, Winmar Construction, and the subcontractor, AlliedBean Demolition, did not respond to the Herald’s requests for comment on Alemán’s account.
On Friday, Winmar Construction asked that the story be clarified to say that the off-duty officer — and a second officer — had been hired by AlliedBean to monitor all procedures and operations during the demolition and had arrived at the site before work began that morning. Stopping traffic was part of their job, Winmar said.
“They oversaw that Collins Avenue was stopped/closed every time a procedure was in place that morning. The off duty police officers were retained even though road closures are not required for private property demolition,” Luis Leon, president of Winmar Construction, said in a statement.
Miami Beach police declined to comment on the officers’ role in monitoring the project while the department is investigating the collapse. It is not uncommon for off-duty officers to be hired for private jobs such as this one.
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An off-duty Miami Beach police officer may have prevented Monday’s flawed condominium building demolition, which left one person in grave condition, from injuring even more people as chunks of concrete flew into a usually busy stretch of Collins Avenue.
None of the companies involved in the project — owner Miami Beach Associates LLC, contractor Winmar Construction or demolition company AlliedBean — requested any street closures on Collins Avenue before the demolition of the former Marlborough House at 5775 Collins Ave. near the end of Monday’s morning rush hour, according to city officials.
Shortly before the 13-story building collapsed, an off-duty officer noticed something on the construction site that concerned him and flagged down a fire truck that happened to be in the area, Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán told the Herald. Miami Beach Fire Rescue immediately stopped traffic in both directions.
The entire building collapsed in a matter of seconds, shattering concrete into pieces that flew into the street. Clouds of smoke enveloped the area, obscuring vision. Afterward, the site was littered with mounds of debris that extended beyond the property line and onto sidewalks and streets where people had been standing and traffic passing just a short time earlier.
“Truly, if it were not for, prior to the building’s collapse, for the actions on behalf of the off-duty police and the fire department that happened by chance to be there, more people would have been injured and possibly killed,” Alemán said Wednesday night at a City Commission meeting.
Samuel Landis, a 46-year-old project manager for the Fort Lauderdale-based AlliedBean Demolition, was struck by the debris and lost his leg. He remains in “extremely grave condition,” Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates said Wednesday evening.
The Miami Beach Police Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the incident, while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigates from the worker safety angle.
Before the building fell, construction workers were pulling apart the building’s support pillars with cables attached to heavy equipment, said James Maes, president of the nearby Seacoast 5700 building, who walked by the construction site shortly before the accident.
“It looked like they were trying to have it collapse in the middle,” Maes said. “For whatever reason it tumbled forward instead of straight down.”
Maes, who returned to his condo before the accident, said it “felt like an earthquake” when the building collapsed.
City officials are now reviewing Miami Beach’s demolition requirements and evaluating possible safety measures.
Construction companies aren’t required to request road closure permits for demolition on private property. Although they have to apply for demolition permits, they don’t have to provide information about the demolition method they plan to use or the exact dates of the demolition, said Ana Salgueiro, the city’s building director. The main restriction is that construction companies can’t use explosives — a method known as implosion — to bring down a building in Miami Beach.
Building permit records show that the building owner applied for an implosion permit in August 2017, which was denied, before applying for a standard demolition permit a few days later. That permit was issued on April 18, 2018.
Salgueiro said she couldn’t discuss what went wrong during the demolition because of the ongoing investigation, but said that regardless of the method used, “It’s not supposed to happen the way it happened.”
“The building is supposed to come down relatively vertically,” she said.
Commissioner Michael Góngora, who lives in the area, passed by the building on his way to work shortly before the demolition. “It was a little alarming to me how many people there were and what it seemed to me how close they were to where the demolition was going to take place,” he said Wednesday night at the City Commission meeting.
Góngora suggested the commission require construction companies to provide more detailed information when they request a demolition permit and said they should look at passing an ordinance that keeps people further away from demolition sites.
“We were lucky, quite frankly, this time that there weren’t more injuries considering how the building went down, and hopefully we can learn from this and carve out some new regulations to prevent it in the future,” he said.
AlliedBean has not responded to questions about the incident. Neither of the company’s founders, Kevin Bean and Liliana Alvarez, responded to a message on Thursday asking why they didn’t request that the street be closed.
Winmar Construction described the incident in a statement as a “construction accident” that occurred “during the planned, approved and permitted demolition” conducted by subcontractor AlliedBean.
Brazilian developer Jose Isaac Peres bought the former Marlborough House condominium building at 5775 Collins Ave. and plans to replace it with a 19-story tower on the beachfront property. His development company, Multiplan Real Estate Asset Management, referred questions to contractor Winmar Construction.
Construction on the site can continue while the investigation is ongoing, said police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez.