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Prosecutors will ask grand jury to probe Miami building collapse as survivor files lawsuit which details terrifying moment she woke up to find the building had 'pancaked'

 Prosecutors in Florida will pursue a grand jury investigation into the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers condominium building - as a survivor files a lawsuit which describes the pure terror of trying to escape as the building collapsed around her.

The grand jury's investigation would examine factors and decisions that led to Thursday's early morning collapse of the 12-story building in Surfside, Miami, that killed at least 11 people and left 150 unaccounted for.

Those factors could include serious structural damage that was identified in a 2018 report but did not appear to have been acted upon as the condo board attempted to raise enough funds to tackle the major repairs.


If negligence is a factor, those responsible could face criminal charges, such as the third-degree felony murder and manslaughter charges brought in the 1996 accidental crash of ValuJet 592 in the Everglades that killed 110 people.

'I am going to urge (the jury) to take a look at it,' State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told the Miami Herald. 'Whether they do or not, it's completely their decision.'

The announcement comes as a survivor of the collapse filed a class action lawsuit against the condo association.

Ninth-floor resident and collapse survivor Raysa Rodriguez described in the suit how she 'screamed in horror' at waking to find the building had 'pancaked'. 

Search and rescue looked for survivors of Thursday's condo collapse in Surfside, Miami. As of Tuesday afternoon 11 people were confirmed dead and 150 people remained unaccounted for

Search and rescue looked for survivors of Thursday's condo collapse in Surfside, Miami. As of Tuesday afternoon 11 people were confirmed dead and 150 people remained unaccounted for

The complaint, filed Tuesday, alleges that it was the association's duty to maintain the building, and ensure the safety of residents, and is seeking unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.

By filing for class action status, Rodriguez is seeking to have the suit represent anyone affected by the tragic collapse. It is the third lawsuit known to have been filed against the condo association since the collapse.

In it, Rodriguez recalls her escape from the ruined building after she woke to find it collapsing.

'I ran through my apartment and out to the hallway,' she said.

'I looked left to the North end of the building. A concrete column had pierced the hallway from floor to ceiling. I looked at the elevators. 

'The elevator shafts were exposed, the doors were gone. 

'I knocked on several neighbors’ doors, no answer. I run to the exit, open the doors that lead to the outside stairwell and I saw the devastation. The beachside of the Champlain had collapsed, pancaked. 

'I screamed in horror.'


State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced she would bring the matter of Thursday's deadly Miami condo collapse before a grand jury for investigation Monday

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced she would bring the matter of Thursday's deadly Miami condo collapse before a grand jury for investigation Monday

Exposed portions of the building show a children's bedroom on the top floor of the building that was partially damaged alongside other parts that were ripped off. Condo resident Raya Rodriguez recounted her harrowing escape out of the building from her ninth-floor apartment in a class action lawsuit filed on her behalf Tuesday

Exposed portions of the building show a children's bedroom on the top floor of the building that was partially damaged alongside other parts that were ripped off. Condo resident Raya Rodriguez recounted her harrowing escape out of the building from her ninth-floor apartment in a class action lawsuit filed on her behalf Tuesday

Rodriguez described how she banged on her neighbors doors until she got an answer and eventually was able to help her elderly neighbor, in her eighties, and neighbor who was with her child and puppy, down the emergency stairs.

The suit cites the structural damage identified in a 2018 report by engineer Frank Morabito. He found that there was a 'major error' in the building's construction which meant the pool was leaking onto the concrete slabs below. 

Additionally, suit alleges other factors may have contributed to the collapse such as faulty materials used in the building's construction and the excess weight of materials and construction equipment being used to replace the building's roof.

In April, the condo board - which had been deliberating the repairs for two years, trying to come up with the money for them and organizing a committee to oversee them -  sent a letter to residents telling them the damage was 'significantly worse' and 'accelerating'.  

'Please note that the original scope of work in the 2018 report has expanded. The concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated. When you can visually see the concrete spalling (cracking), that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface.  

Condo owners warned of need for repairs in April
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The suit references a 2018 engineers report, which outlined extensive damage to the building that had yet to be repaired

The suit references a 2018 engineers report, which outlined extensive damage to the building that had yet to be repaired

Among the deterioration included exposed rebar, and crumbling concrete

Among the deterioration included exposed rebar, and crumbling concrete 

In that letter, she said they were still trying to finalize a loan from Valley bank to pay for the repairs (they tried to get a loan first from Banco Popular but the deal fell through) and that the total cost was more than $16million and the board had just $707,000 in cash reserves, leaving them with a bill for around $15million. 

The owners of the building's 136 units would be responsible for repaying it and each was on the hook for a different amount depending on how big their unit was.  

Adam Schwartzbaum, one of Rodriguez's attorneys, said the association had known the building had been in poor condition and ignored the warning signs. 

'Certainly for at least three years, there was a major red flag...sirens flashing, alerting the condo association of this danger,' he told CNN, referring to the 2018 report.  

Additionally, Schwartzbaum said his grandmother had lived in the building for 30 years before moving out 10 years ago, and said she had noticed water leaking onto her car in the building's underground parking lot.

A retired postal worker, Rodriguez had lived in Champlain Towers South for the past 17 years, according to the Miami Herald.  

Rondriguez gave a detailed account of her escape from the building with a group of neighbors

Rondriguez gave a detailed account of her escape from the building with a group of neighbors 

In her suit, she recalled the chaos after being awoken from her sleep by the rumble of the collapse. 

She said the building felt like it was swaying 'like a piece of paper,' and when she ran to her balcony, 'a wall of dust hit me.' 

After viewing the destruction in the hallway outside her room, Rodriguez recounted hearing a woman scream, 'Please help me! Please help me! Don’t leave me here!’

She was unable to see whoever was calling out in the dark, and ran back inside to get dressed. 

As she did so, a pounding came on her door, and she opened it to find her neighbor, Yadira, along with her 10-year-old son Kai and their Maltese puppy. 


Crews from the United States and Israel work in the rubble Champlain Towers South condo Tuesday as hopes for further rescues faded

Crews from the United States and Israel work in the rubble Champlain Towers South condo Tuesday as hopes for further rescues faded

Soon, her brother, Fred, called and yelled at them to get out of the building, but she couldn't, she replied, because she believed the stairs had collapsed. 

A firefighter then got on the line and told them to search for a way out, and that others had been able to escape through a stairwell.

As they made their way out, they slowly helped their 80-year-old neighbor Ada down the crumbling stairs.

Eventually they reached the first-floor exit by the pool, but it was blocked by rubble. 

'I could hear water flooding into the garage,' Rodriguez wrote. 'I knew being electrocuted was a possibility.'

Finally, the group decided to try and escape through the second-floor balcony of a friend's apartment, and after a brief struggle with its sliding glass door, escaped to first responders, who helped the group down with a ladder.   

According to the suit: 'Raysa and her neighbors were four of the more fortunate victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse.' 

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