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Surfside engineer may be shut out because town is part of investigation

Forensic expert hired by town frustrated by lack of access to condo collapse debris

Why is Surfside's engineer being shut out? Source offers a theory.
Why is Surfside's engineer being shut out? Source offers a theory.

SURFSIDE, Fla. – A source says there may be a good reason why Surfside’s forensic engineer has been denied access to the site to investigate.

That’s because the town could be part of the investigation into what went wrong at the Champlain Towers South. And “it may be better to keep any investigators associated with the town away,” the source said.

Local 10 News reported Wednesday that Allyn Kilsheimer, a renowned engineer of 63 years hired by Surfside, is “pissed off” about a lack of access to the debris from the tragic June 24 collapse.

Kilsheimer says he has not been granted any access to get concrete samples from the site or from the debris that’s been moved off-site.

“In order to figure out what happened, there is a lot of information we need to get,” he said. “And it requires access to the site and access to materials that were on the site.”

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Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett has called the state attorney’s office, he says, to understand exactly what the town’s role is in the investigation.

“I don’t know exactly why our engineer is not being permitted at the site,” Burkett said.

Engineer probing Surfside collapse 'pissed off' he isn't getting access he needs
Engineer probing Surfside collapse 'pissed off' he isn't getting access he needs

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has said she will pursue a grand jury investigation into the collapse.

Right now, the site and debris are considered part of a crime scene.

And the town may be part of the investigation.

As Local 10 News has reported, after a 2018 engineering report warned of major structural issues that required immediate repair at Champlain Towers South, a Surfside building inspector told residents the building appeared to be in “very good shape.”

“What we have to find out now is if there is another reason, whether it’s because Surfside was involved in the inspections I think years ago, and there were discussions, whether that is impacting the decision not to have our expert at the site,” Burkett said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is investigating the collapse. It’s the fifth investigation since they were given those powers in 2002. After 9/11, it was determined there was no federal agency that investigates building collapses.

NIST is putting together a team, but it’s unclear if Surfside’s expert will be part of that.

“This will be a fact-finding, not fault-finding, technical investigation,” NIST’s James Olthoff said. “It will take time, possibly years and we will not stop until we get a cause.”

Judy Mitrani-Reiser of NIST added: “We will be interested in samples and soil conditions.”

Burkett said Kilsheimer’s involvement will ultimately be decided by those running the investigation.

“If NIST wants him, he should be,” Burkett said. “If the state attorney wants him to be there, he should be. If there’s a reason that they don’t, and he shouldn’t be, then he won’t be.”

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Fernandez Rundle said there have been multiple requests by engineers to gain access to the site and that at this point “NIST is the fact-finding agency.”

See Fernandez Rundle’s full statement below:

“Engineers from the federal agency National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were deployed to Surfside with Congressional authority to gather evidence and determine how and why the Champlain South Tower collapsed.

“NIST is the fact-finding agency responsible for investigating building collapses such as the World Trade Center, much like the NTSB investigates plane crashes. To date, there have been multiple requests by engineers and attorneys to gain access to this site due to their understandable desire to move their civil court actions forward. However, we cannot forget that the scene and all the related materials are still under active investigation, preservation and examination, and as usual, law enforcement is in charge of the scene.

“It is my understanding that once NIST, the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and Miami-Dade Police Departments determine that it is safe and appropriate for others to gain access to the site, they will be permitted to do so under guidelines set forth by those agencies.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also issued a statement to Local 10 News:

“It’s essential that we get answers and accountability about what happened in Surfside, for the victims and their families and for the safety of all the residents of Miami-Dade County. The investigation into what caused the collapse of the Surfside condominium is being conducted by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology – the federal agency authorized to conduct technical investigations of building failures, issue reports and make recommendations to improve building codes and standards – with the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We have a large team of engineers and other forensic experts from NIST and other federal agencies on site performing extensive testing, measurements, photographing and 3D imaging, and collection and tagging of evidentiary materials, to collect as much data as possible to support the full investigation.”


About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.