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Investigation into fatal fall underway

September 4, 2009 10:09:18 AM PDT
A defective fire escape is blamed for Saturday's fatal fall above a popular Rittenhouse Square bar in Philadelphia.As it turns out, the problems on the 200 block of South 16th Street don't end there.

The city is finding more violations.

The accident happened Saturday night at a 4th floor apartment above Monk's Café on 16th Street in the city's Rittenhouse Square neighborhood.

Investigators say the two victims were on a fourth floor fire escape when it happened. It's part of what is known as a Philadelphia tower-style fire escape. L&I say the railing was rusted through and just gave way.

L&I was back on Monday to see if the first floor of the building, which houses Monk's Cafe, could be reopened safely.

The larger residential portion is where the fatal plunge occurred. The fire escape remains unsafe. It's deteriorating and in danger of collapse, according to official documents.

"We've written it for unsafe violations of the stair tower, of the landing, of the railings," said L&I Commissioner Fran Burns.

Killed in the fall was Steven Lee, 25, who lived there. An autopsy showed he died of massive head injuries. Jacquine Seagrest, 24, was released from the hospital with broken ribs and other injuries.

Police say Lee and Seagrest went to the top floor of the building to look at the Center City skyline before the fire escape collapsed.

The question is: If the stair tower as in such bad shape, had it ever been cited? The answer is no.

As it turns out, Philadelphia does not currently inspect buildings for structural issues unless there is a complaint.

"If we had complaints of a railing or structure that are unsafe, we go out there to determine the safety of it," said Burns.

The man who was identified as the building's owner declined to talk on Sunday. Attempts to reach him on Monday were unsuccessful.

For now, L&I says the building owner is now cooperating with the city.

"What we see between now and Friday will answer whether he's cooperating or not," said Burns.

Friday is also the day everyone involved will get together to determine the future of the building.


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