Berkeley tragedy ‘did not need to happen’, says Aoife Beary

Balcony collapse survivor gives emotional testimony to California senate hearing

Aoife Beary, who suffered severe injuries when a balcony collapsed in Berkeley, and her mother Angela testify to the Assembly Appropriations Committee to pass Senate Bill 465 in Sacramento, California.

 

Aoife Beary, who survived the balcony collapse at her 21st birthday in Berkeley which claimed the lives of six of her friends, told a California senate hearing Wednesday that the tragedy should not have occurred.

The student, who suffered horrific injuries after falling four storeys, wept as she explained how much she missed the friends with whom she had grown up.

“Now my birthday will always be their anniversary,” she told the assembly appropriations committee, which is considering new laws to introduce greater transparency on building standards.

Six students died when the balcony collapsed and seven were severely injured.

The construction company behind the Library Gardens complex had paid out $26.5 million (€23.7 million) in building defect settlements before the Berkeley tragedy, it later emerged.

If passed, Bill 465 will pave the way for two separate investigations into how greater transparency on such settlements, and on building-related felonies, might better serve the public. Ms Beary, who was giving testimony alongside her mother Angela and Jackie Donohoe, mother of 22-year-old Ashley Donohoe, who also perished, said she could not believe such legislation required consideration.

“My friends and I were so looking forward to our summer in Berkeley,” she said.

“We had already travelled a lot and spent our summers together in Vancouver, Thailand and Vietnam since we had started college.

“I could never have imagined how it could have ended.”

Breaking down in tears, Ms Beary described the toll the events had taken on her life.

“I miss my friends so much. I have known them since we started school together at four years of age. We had grown up together,” she said.

“None of this needed to happen. Some of my injuries will be with me for the rest of my life.”

These had included a traumatic brain injury and she underwent open heart surgery, Ms Beary told the committee. She also suffered broken arms, hands, pelvis and jaw.

She lost teeth and had lacerations to her liver, kidney and spleen.

Other injuries included a collapsed lung and broken ribs.

Consequently, Ms Beary had been unable to complete her college course and had lost much of her independence.

“My life has changed forever. I cannot believe you are even debating this Bill. People died.”

Her mother Angela said she was angry her daughter’s life had been so severely impacted by the negligence of others while the families of those who died had been left with “incredible grief”.

She said the students had departed Dublin Airport “full of smiles and laughter and excitement. Many of them never came home”.