Jeff Miao was the first one down the staircase from the third-floor apartment in Building 8. The others were right behind: Frances Yuan and Charles Cheung; Winnie Deng, Jayde Yip and the young man who stepped out next, Shun Xiang Yuan.
Miao was on the second-floor landing at The Legends at Willow Creek apartment complex in Folsom when he heard a loud noise, according to a lawsuit filed in Sacramento Superior Court.
It was already too late for Shun Xiang Yuan, known as Chris, a master’s student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, who hailed from the Bay Area. He was walking down the stairs on what attorneys representing his parents later would call “a ticking time bomb.”
The stairway collapsed, dropping Yuan to the ground below amid rubble and dust. The shaking on the third floor was so violent that the others feared the building, too, might come down.
The impact didn’t immediately kill Yuan, his parents’ lawsuit says, but his life was ebbing fast. His friends performed CPR in a desperate attempt to save his life July 3, 2015, but their efforts weren’t enough.
For the past year, Yuan’s parents, Qixing Yuan and Yulin Ye have been pursuing a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against the apartment complex’s owner, The Legends at Willow Creek LP. They are also suing various contractors who worked on the complex, saying they should have raised alarms about the condition of the rotting staircases.
Yuan, 26, was his parents’ only son.
A case management conference in the matter is scheduled for Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court. Attorneys, who are still gathering discovery and conducting depositions, will discuss the case with a Sacramento Superior Court judge via teleconference.
Yuan’s parents have been joined in their lawsuit by the young men who were with Yuan at the apartment complex that night, including his cousin, Frances Yuan. The complaint said they suffer from emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder caused by watching Yuan’s violent death.
Plaintiff’s attorney Mary Alexander of San Francisco firm Mary Alexander & Associates alleged in her complaint that widespread negligence led to Yuan’s death. The lawsuit accuses the extensive list of firms tied to the 208-unit Folsom complex of failing to comply with building codes, using inadequate building plans, and failing to protect the staircase against water intrusion and dry rot that Folsom city building officials determined led to the staircase’s eventual collapse.
Folsom building officials in a summary released in the days after the 2015 collapse said the staircase was no longer properly secured to the building. Lag bolts had pulled away from the rotten wood, causing the stairs to crumble.
More disturbing, Alexander argued in her complaint, was that a similar stairway at the complex’s Building 7 had collapsed the previous year, in 2014.
Shortly after Yuan’s death, a spokesman for the apartment complex’s owner said the 2014 stairway failure had prompted the owners to examine all the staircases. Dry rot was found throughout the complex. The city issued building permits for repairs, but most were still outstanding at the time Yuan died, The Sacramento Bee found.
“There was no general warning sent out to the building” after the June 2014 stairway collapse stating that other staircases at the complex might also be dangerous, Alexander said in an interview Monday, remarking on the similarity between the 2014 staircase failure and the collapse in which Yuan was killed.
“People had just stepped off (the staircase) when it fell,” Alexander said. “With ours, people had just stepped off and the one who stepped on, it killed him. It’s the exact same story. The same thing happened. The notice in this case is extraordinary. It’s remarkable, and it’s appalling.”
Attorneys for the various defendants named in the suit deny wrongdoing. On Monday, Legends at Willow Creek directed queries to Larry Kamer, the Oakland-based crisis management consultant recently in the news as personal spokesman for Linda P.B. Katehi, the embattled former UC Davis chancellor.
Kamer said Legends’ representatives “are not commenting on any of this matter because it is in litigation.”
Contractors that worked on the building also have denied responsibility. Alco General Contractors of Rancho Cordova, in a December 2015 filing, said it shouldn’t be held liable for work the building’s owner hadn’t instructed it to perform.
Orange-based structural engineering firm VanDorpe Chou & Associates said the collapse in Building 8 was “unavoidable” and the result of a “natural cause which no one could reasonably be expected to anticipate.”
Alexander says the contractors should have notified the owner that the staircases weren’t safe. “A number of defendants are saying, ‘We weren’t asked’ (to make repairs), putting it back on the owner,” she said. “It’s just passing the buck.”
Yuan’s parents are seeking unspecified damages to compensate for the loss of their son’s companionship and the financial support he would have provided.