Hard Rock victims’ families call for criminal charges in hotel collapse
The Council also revoked the conditional use permit for the site Thursday morning
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - There’s a call to file criminal charges following the collapse at the Hard Rock Hotel site that killed three people almost two years ago after the New Orleans City Council revoked the developers’ special permit Thursday.
“Even though it gets quiet in our heads it’s still loud and it’s not gonna stop,” Angela Magrette, the twin sister of Anthony Magrette, said.
These three families, joined in tragedy, say nothing will make them feel better 18 months later at a press conference called by Councilmember Kristen Palmer.
“They should have went in and came out alive, he was in there for almost 10 months and that was horrifying for me to know that my son was in that building, with his legs hanging out and there wasn’t anything anyone could do,” Irene Wimberly, the mother of Quinnyon Wimberly, said.
Although the conditional use permit which allowed the building to rise three times higher than normal was unanimously rescinded by the City Council, Councilmember Kristen Palmer and the victim’s families want more.
“I was told that we were going to see justice and we still haven’t we’re going through this every day,” Magrette said.
Palmer says land use is the only thing the Council can control right now since the property is still private.
“We had to hold them accountable and rescind anything that was benefit to them because they broke the public trust,” Palmer said.
Now, calling for criminal charges to be brought against the developer and contractors, Palmer wants the Office of the Inspector General to release their investigative report to the DA’s office as well as the OSHA report that detailed violations and failures causing the collapse.
“There absolutely positively is no linkage, it’s reprehensible, it’s disgusting, we are outraged,” Kerry Miller, the attorney for the developer, 1031 Canal, said.
Miller says this is political grandstanding, adding the OIG’s report isn’t about the collapse, rather the city’s permitting process.
“We agree with her on one point, we’d like to know everything about the city and its incompetence, and its permits departments and their failures in their contributions to the cause of this collapse,” Miller said.
Miller also said 1031 was the only company to settle with the families and that the criminal investigation already happened with OSHA.
“The OSHA report completely exonerates, the owner of the building,” Miller said. “It identifies Heaslip Engineering in some of the steel companies as the cause of the collapse.”
His client, Mohan Kailas, wrote a letter to the council that said “revoking the 190′ height will irreparably harm the Hard Rock deal”.
“We wanted to defer action today to be able to present a good plan moving forward with credible engineers,” Miller said.
Read the full letter below:
I strongly urge you all to vote for deferral on zoning docket number 29/31- City Council motion M-21-69. I understand there is a host of misinformation surrounding this issue, so I wanted you to hear the facts directly from me.
The two most certain ways to kill a project are to devalue its feasibility or to add the risk of extended delays. Losing the ability to build to a height of 190′ at 1031 Canal Street will extend this project’s timeline indefinitely or end the deal outright. Revoking the 190′ height will irreparably harm the Hard Rock deal.
Our goal is to build in the same confines of our original ordinance, with a new contractor and a world-renowned engineering team. Our goal is not to add additional land sites to the project (“red zone” sites). We want to re-build as expeditiously and safely as possible, within the confines of the conditional use, lest the deal completely falls through.
The local hospitality market is facing the most grave challenges due to the global pandemic. Projects have been cancelled or shuttered across the City. I respectfully request you to vote to defer this motion.
It benefits no one to put this site in an indefinite limbo, killing a project with an international brand which would annually generate millions of dollars of tax revenue for the city and create hundreds of jobs.
1031 Canal Development, LLC
But now, 1031 has to go back to the council moving forward.
“They have to come back to an open and public process and be accountable to the public,” Palmer said.
DA Jason Williams released this statement in response to Palmer’s call to bring criminal charges:
“Since being elected as District Attorney, I have personally spoken with the Inspector General and his staff on three separate occasions to request their report and am awaiting the findings of their complete investigation to ensure that accountability and justice is served for the people impacted by the Hard Rock tragedy.
Councilmember Palmer is well aware that to date there have been no arrests by the NOPD nor has the OIG completed and published an investigative report.
My commitment is steadfast to families impacted and the citizens of the city to hold anyone responsible in the Hard Rock collapse accountable, and I am eager to receive the OIG’s investigative report to make sure that justice is served.”
Williams also provided some background to his statements. As City Council President, Williams led the charge to form a Special City Council Committee to investigate the collapse as well as worked to pass an ordinance that would help prevent future land use tragedies by requiring peer reviews of projects of this size and scope.
The OIG asked the Council to halt the investigation so they wouldn’t interfere.
He says Councilmember Palmer asked that the ordinance be deferred and signed on as a sponsor with the commitment to advance it, but it still has not moved forward.
He says this is the first time he has heard anything from Councilmember Palmer on the Hard Rock since leaving the City Council.
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