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Dry rot suspected in fatal Folsom stairway collapse

A bouquet of flowers is left at the scene where Shun Xiang Yuan, 26, of San Francisco, was killed when a concrete and metal staircase fell as he and a friend were coming down from the third floor at the Legends at Willow Creek apartment complex in Folsom. Work is being down to brace up other stairwells in the complex.
A bouquet of flowers is left at the scene where Shun Xiang Yuan, 26, of San Francisco, was killed when a concrete and metal staircase fell as he and a friend were coming down from the third floor at the Legends at Willow Creek apartment complex in Folsom. Work is being down to brace up other stairwells in the complex. lsterling@sacbee.com

More than a year before a stairway collapsed and killed a 26-year-old man last week, a different stairway came down at the 280-unit Folsom apartment complex, alerting managers to a widespread problem of dry rot, a spokesman for the complex said Tuesday.

From the time of the June 2014 stairway collapse until last month, contractors hired by the owner of the apartment obtained permits to repair the dry rot, online city records show. Not all of the work was completed, including the stairway where Shun Xiang Yuan was killed, according to city officials.

The city’s chief building official, Steve Burger, identified dry rot as the likely cause of the last week’s collapse. He has been at The Legends at Willow Creek for three days since Friday’s accident. He inspected the three-floor stairway that collapsed and asked the owners to secure the 32 other stairways in the 15-year-old building.

“The wood had dry rot, and at first blush that appears to be the cause of it,” Burger said.

Dry rot was also cited as a factor in last month’s collapse of an 8-year-old Berkeley apartment balcony that killed six students. Like the balcony in Berkeley, the stairway in Folsom was on the outside of the building.

Larry Kamer, spokesman for apartment building owner Gerson Bakar and Associates of San Francisco, said he had not heard of the dry rot findings. “We are going to give great deference to what the building official says,” he said.

But Kamer acknowledged that dry rot had been found throughout the complex after the 2014 stairway collapse. He said no one was hurt in that collapse.

He said the earlier collapse prompted an examination of all the stairways at the complex. The company or its contractors have received 41 building permits from the city since the start of 2014, according to an online city database. Only one-fourth of the permits have been closed out by the city.

Kamer said Gerson Bakar is trying to determine why the work has taken so long to complete.

Mary Alexander, a San Francisco attorney, said the Yuan family is devastated by the accident, which took their only child.

“It’s such a senseless accident that could have been prevented. (Management) had noticed, but they didn’t fix it,” she said of the dry rot findings.

Alexander said she will file a civil claim on the family’s behalf in the coming days. She urged the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office to file criminal charges based on information that the apartment management was aware of the dry rot.

Yuan, a master’s student at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, was visiting a friend at the complex. The pair was ready to go out, when the stairs that Yuan was standing on collapsed, Alexander said. Moments later, a second flight of stairs collapsed over his head, she said.

“One side broke away and dumped him,” Alexander said. “And then the other side fell on top of him.”

Bystanders lifted the collapsed stairs, but Yuan was unable to be revived, Alexander said.

Building permits were obtained last month for the stairway that collapsed, Burger said. City officials are compiling building permits and other records about the complex but said the documents will likely not be available until Wednesday.

Burger said the city’s responsibility for safety inspections ends when a building is constructed and given an occupancy permit unless a resident files a complaint with code enforcement. Burger said he is not aware of any such complaints involving structural issues at the complex.

Because Gerson Bakar is fixing the stairways, Burger said, he saw little reason to cite the company for a code violation for the dry rot.

Kamer, who previously said the accident “shouldn’t have happened,” said Gerson Bakar has secured all the stairways in the complex with wood beams and is making permanent structural improvements to all of them.

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