Monday, July 03, 2000

Engineers say terrace may have had flaw


Winery structure doesn't appear to have been overloaded, they say

By
The Associated Press and The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLE BASS ISLAND, Ohio — Engineers think the collapse of a concrete terrace at an island winery in Lake Erie was caused by a structural problem, not an overload of people.

        The Lonz Winery was filled with revelers drinking and singing songs Saturday, but a day after the accident, which killed one and injured at least 75, the only sounds came from saws cutting through concrete.

        Caroline Willen, 35, of Maineville and seven friends from the Tristate were having a girls' weekend in Put-in-Bay — a popular getaway for southern Ohioans — when the deadly accident struck.

        “They were there, and then they weren't,” Ms. Willen said of the people standing on the terrace. “Everyone was having a good time; it's the last thing you expected.”

        It took 40 frantic, frightening minutes for the friends to find one another, she said from her home Sunday afternoon.

        None of them was injured, and it was unclear Sunday night whether any of the close to 30 people still hospitalized Sunday night were from the Tristate.

        Mark Reighard, 29, of Columbus, was killed in the accident, said Mike Drusbacky, deputy director of the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency. A cause of death has not been determined, he said.

        Structural engineers Saturday night were able to look at the concrete flooring and the steel beams that supported the terrace floor, said Ottawa County Sheriff Craig Emahiser.

        “It looked to (them) to be a structural problem,” Sheriff Emahiser said.

        The winery is owned by Paramount Distilleries Inc. of Cincinnati, which also owns Meier's Wine Cellars in Silverton.

        The collapse left a 16-to

        18-foot hole in the floor of the lakefront terrace at Lonz Winery's century-old main building, a fortresslike mansion on the National Register of Historic Places.

        Authorities are convinced no bodies are still buried under the debris. Dogs have searched the rubble three times and found nothing.

        “Nobody was dancing in that area; the floor just gave out,” said Put-in-Bay Fire Chief Mark Wilhelm.

        Larry Read, of Milan, Mich., was playing piano at the winery as the crowd sang along to the Three Dog Night song “Joy to the World” just before the accident.

        “It was a gorgeous afternoon. Everybody was enjoying the day,” Mr. Read said. “It was extremely crowded — a typical holiday weekend.”

        After he was told of the accident, Mr. Read said he ran from the stage to the edge of the terrace.

        “I looked down in the hole and there were people just laying down there. It was almost like they were moving in slow motion,” Mr. Read said.

        He said it was quiet and he couldn't hear anybody screaming.

        After rescuers arrived, he led about 70 uninjured people in prayer, Mr. Read said.

        “The winery and all of the customers did everything they could to help those suffering,” he said.

        Emergency crews arrived within 10 minutes of getting the call, Chief Wilhelm said. When they got there everybody had already been pulled out of the 20-foot-deep hole by people in the crowd, he said.

        Tom Neagle, 50, of Chicago, said there were four or five doctors on the island that showed up right away.

        “We got as many people as we could free from the debris that was on top of them. Everybody came together; it was pretty amazing,” Mr. Neagle said. “Thank God there were those doctors. That probably saved a lot of people.”

        There were a couple of thousand people at the winery Saturday, but only 100 were on the 25-by-20-foot terrace where the 4-inch-thick floor collapsed, said Put-in-Bay Police Chief Jim Lang.

        About 30 of the injured were still in five area hospitals Sunday, including a half-dozen in serious or critical condition.

        Sheriff Emahiser said the terrace was built in 1964 and he wasn't sure when it was last inspected.

        Ms. Willen talked her friends into making the trip north because Lonz was supposed to close after this year.

        “That's part of the Put-in-Bay experience,” she said.

        The state is buying the site for $6.75 million for a park that will feature nature trails and eventually could have a campground, swimming beach and resort lodge.

       



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