Clodagh Cogley survived the balcony collapse in Berkeley, California, that killed six people and injured seven more. But she may never walk again.
“The chances of me using my legs again are pretty bleak,” Cogley, 21, wrote on her Facebook page, also writing that the accident left her with two collapsed lungs, a broken shoulder, a broken knee, five broken ribs and a severed spinal cord.
“Not the best odds but I’m moving to a great rehabilitation centre here in San Francisco for two months (it has dog therapy) and intend to give it everything I’ve got,” she wrote. “Who knows maybe legs have been holding me back all these years and I’ll realise my talent for wheelchair basketball.”
“The thing I’m taking from this tragedy is that life is short and I intend to honour those who died by living the happiest and most fulfilling life possible,” she continued.
Cogley’s attitude is one of the few positives to emerge from a disastrous night on June 16 when a large crowd of Irish students who came to California for summer work gathered on the fifth floor of the Library Gardens apartment building to toast a friend’s 21st birthday.
“It was just like any regular 21st birthday party,” Peter Campbell, 21, a J-1 visa holder from Ireland working as a bouncer at the nearby Jupiter brewpub in Berkeley tells PEOPLE.
“I heard from quite a few people who were at the party that there were only five or six [students] on the balcony when it started to go.”
Approximately half of the 13 students who plummeted to the sidewalk 50 feet below were trying to save their friends, according to Campbell’s account of what partygoers have told him. Four students were declared dead at the scene and two more died a short time later. The seven students who survived were all hospitalized with injuries.
They Didn’t Want to Talk About It
Gerald Robinson, a 65-year-old massage therapist living in Berkeley, was sitting in his car with a friend after catching a movie when he saw ambulances scream around the corner to Kittredge Street.
He and his friend decided to follow on foot. After surveying the chaotic scene, Robinson returned to his car. He was about to leave when two students who had been at the party flagged him down.
The young couple asked for a ride to Highland Hospital in Oakland and Robinson agreed.
When they arrived, Robinson tells PEOPLE there were about 15 students crying in the lobby, comforting each other, and texting messages to their friends and relatives to try to figure out who was on the balcony, who was injured, and who was missing.
“It was just pandemonium at the hospital,” Robinson says. “One of the kids, a young woman, had blood on her knees, so she must have been kneeling at the scene.”
The students there “had seen the worst, and they didn’t want to talk about it,” says Robinson. “We all sat there in a lot of silence and shock.”
The victims who died in the accident have been identified as Olivia Burke, Eoghan Colligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorc n Miller, and Eimear Walsh, all 21 and from Ireland. The sixth fatal victim, Ashley Donohoe, was 22. Donohoe was born and raised in California and had dual Irish-American citizenship. She was a cousin of Burke.
When the balcony collapsed, some of the students landed on top of one another. “[I] can’t believe how lucky [Clodagh] and the rest of the survivors were,” Cogley’s brother, Daragh wrote on Facebook. “And Clodagh wanted to say particular thanks to Jack Halpin for grabbing her and breaking her fall.”
Philip Grant, consul general of Ireland to the Western United States, has been consoling families and friends of those who perished. He also visits the injured students in their respective hospitals.
Two students, Sean Fahey and Conor Flynn, have been discharged. Fahey returned to Ireland earlier this week and Flynn, who has a punctured lung, is staying in the San Francisco Bay Area to recover. Jack Halpin is expected to be released from the hospital soon. Aoife Beary and Hannah Waters remain in the intensive care unit at Highland Hospital. Niall Murray also remains hospitalized.
“Some are worse off than others but they are all fighters,” Grant says.
A Criminal Probe
Earlier this week, Berkeley’s Building and Safety Division confirmed suspicions that dry rot degenerated the wood beams and joists that supported the balcony. They proposed new inspection and construction rules to prevent a similar catastrophe.
Officials now want owners of apartments and other multi-unit housing complexes to inspect balconies, stairways and elevated decks at least once every five years. They are also calling for builders to use sturdier, more costly building materials and to ban the use of untreated engineered wood that is more susceptible to dry rot. Officials also believe installing vents beneath balconies, stairways and elevated decks would help dry out wood exposed to water.
The development of Library Gardens was overseen by Pleasanton, California-based Segue Construction in 2007. Berkeley officials determined there were no violations of construction codes.
Even so, the Alameda County district attorney’s office confirmed this week that it will open a criminal investigation into the incident.
Friends of the victims are also predicting lawsuits.
Tian Feng, a University of California at Berkeley student from Shanghai, China, and a resident of Library Gardens, says tenants have long complained about neglected maintenance at the building.
Now, he says, several residents are moving out: “We don’t feel it’s safe.”