Questions arise after restaurant deck collapses

Victims contact personal injury lawyers after falling into Biscayne Bay


NORTH BAY VILLAGE, Fla. – A day after a restaurant deck collapsed, causing dozens of people to fall into 4 feet of water in Biscayne Bay, many are now wondering what happened.

Additionally, victim Bill Ahern (pictured, right) wonders what caused the deck to collapse into a V-shape at Shuckers Bar & Grill in North Bay Village.

"I didn't know what happened. All of sudden the bottom fell out," said Ahern. "In an instant, it just went black and we started free falling backwards."

It happened as 100 people, perched 8 to 10 feet above the water on the 40-year-old wooden structure, started jumping up and down while watching TV, cheering on the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.

"We heard a cheer for the Heat and the next thing I know, I was falling backwards," said Selina Mills (pictured, above).

The apparently corroded concrete framing and the rusted rebar supposedly supported the deck.

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"It's obvious there is some sort of structural incident that occurred. We were out earlier on the Marine Patrol vessel to get a closer look with the engineers."

The engineers' findings are not complete, but Local 10 found at City Hall blueprints for a new deck, dated May 2009, which included new pilings and new decking.

"I understand they were working on it. There was a plan to rebuild."

Former Shuckers Bar & Grill manager Rich Sena remembers issues with the deck, from the aging wood planks to the apparently eroding platform.

"When we tried to replace them, we'd grab the drill and use deck screws," said Sena. "Kept going, going, realized you weren't drilling anything."

By all accounts, the new deck was never built, yet the last inspection report in 2012 includes the structure in a general sign-off of the entire building as structurally sound.

"Even though there were 100 people as reported, that's well within the margin for the capacity for that deck," said Sena.

Flavia Ellemberger would probably beg to differ after she ended up in a neck brace when she, her husband and their 6-year-old son spilled into the water.

"We fall into the water and I'd been hit by tables, and everything fell on top of us," said Ellemberger.

The cries and screams for help, reverberated among the injured all the way to the 911 operators.

LISTEN: 911 calls (Some graphic language): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

Other patrons and Shuckers employees suddenly started jumping into the dark water to pull people to safety.

By the time Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and other first responding agencies arrived by land, air and sea, they would treat 24 people on the scene for injuries, like scrapes, bumps and bruises to their heads, cuts and at least one person suffered a bone fracture.

Fifteen other victims were rushed to nearby hospitals, Jackson Memorial, Mount Sinai, UM, North Shore Hospital and Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where three people went to in serious condition.

Most of the people were just panicked and in sheer shock after being caught up in all of the collapse chaos.

"I was afraid I was going to die," said Mills.

Victims including Mills and Ahern have already contacted personal injury lawyers.

"I am so sore all over because I had tables and stuff falling on me, so I was scared," said Mills.

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