10 Years Later, Porch Collapse Survivor Says ‘I Cringe When I Think About This’
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Ten years ago this month, 13 people died when two levels of porches full of party-goers collapsed in Lincoln Park.
“I don’t remember hitting the ground,” survivor Natalie Brougham told WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller. “We were standing there talking, and then we woke up. … And then we were just in a pile of people.”
Brougham said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and has battled alcoholism, which she said might have been exacerbated by the porch collapse.
She said she is 3 ½ years sober now.
On June 29, 2003, Brougham was at a party at at 713 W. Wrightwood Ave., where more than 60 people were packed on the building’s rear porches.
Before the porches gave way, wine was being served on the third floor porch; beer on the second. So Brougham went up to the third floor to get some wine.
“I almost went back downstairs and I got stopped by this guy who was talking to me about life insurance, and I was about to walk downstairs, and I was like, ‘Whatever, I’ll just hear this guy out,’” she said. “Right then is when it happened.”
The third floor collapsed, crashing down onto the second floor, then both fell to the ground.
“There was like seven people laying on top of me, and laying on my face. It broke my nose, but I’m one of the very lucky people. That was probably my most major injury. There was somebody who bit off her tongue. It was pretty crazy,” she said.
Thirteen people died, and more than 50 others were injured.
Brougham, now 32, said it was the people on the second floor porch who died, crushed between the two porches. Those victims included her friend, a host of the party.
“I cringe when I think about this. It’s just like, ‘oh God.’ And that’s where the people who passed away were, was underneath me and other people,” she said.
“I was thinking, I’m not sure if we will live through this or not … and then I started focusing on trying to calm other people down, which I think made me calmer,” she added. “The hardest part of it was, how long can I breathe like this before I can’t? Because there’s so much weight on my body.”
She said she does not believe there were too many people on the porches; she believes the fault was in the construction and the inspection of the porches.
“If they had concerns about capacity, I don’t know why they would’ve built such a large porch,” she said.
City officials said the porch was overcrowded, and several party goers were jumping on the decks before they gave way. Brougham says she did not see anyone jumping up and down.
The city also said the porch was poorly constructed, and the owner had not obtained proper permits to build it. The city said the porch jutted out too far from the building, and was larger than allowed by city codes. Inspectors also said it did not have proper supports, had undersized wood flooring, and was attached with screws too small for the job.
However, some survivors and the families of victims who died sued the city, alleging city inspectors should have known the porch wasn’t safe after visiting the building several times before the collapse. In 2007, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled the city was not liable for the collapse.
The city said the number of complaints about porches has been declining since the deadly collapse in 2003, and the number of permits issued has stayed above 2,000 every year. Officials said that’s an indication porches are being maintained.