Trinity Community Responds Post-balcony Collapse

6 min read

CHRIS BULFINCH ’18
NEWS EDITOR
Hushed voices echoed around the still, humid air of Trinity’s chapel on Sunday Sept. 11. As Chaplain Alison Read rose and planted herself in front of the assembled students, faculty, and administrators, the voices petered off. Sideways glances turned toward the Chaplain, who began to speak. Her words were not so important as the reason she stood before those seated in the pews, a flock united not by any particular belief but by a sense of mutual concern and a kind of grief. Chaplain Read was, of course, addressing the collapse of a balcony at 1715 Broad Street, at a party hosted by brothers of Kappa Sigma.
The night of Sept. 10 began like any other weekend night. Erin Gannon ’19 and Julianna Leone ’17 both reflected on the normalcy of the evening in the hours and minutes leading up to the accident: “It was going to be a great night,” said Leone, “I remember how exciting it all was.” Gannon remembers spending time with rowing teammates before going out to the party.
The party was a major event of the weekend. A Facebook group had been created by members of the fraternity days in advance, and hundreds of invitations had been issued.The house was entirely inhabited by members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity who had recently moved into the Broad Street location, having previously resided on Allen Place. The party, billed as a “housewarming party,” had been registered with the College. “The party started in good spirits and responsibility… a lot of socializing, laughing and dancing,” as Brian Grasso ’17 put it.
Then, a cracking sound and the piercing stab of screams cleaved the summer evening.
The third floor balcony collapsed onto the second, which in turn descended onto the first in a tumbling avalanche of wood and metal. Nick DiBenedetto ’17, described it as a “domino effect,” elaborating that the scene was “bloody, traumatic…everything was mayhem.”
Students who managed to emerge from the wreckage immediately turned around to help those still trapped, while others notified the police. Frantic 911 calls mingled with the screams of the injured and the cries of those filled with concern for their friends and classmates.
First responders and Campus Safety were on the scene within minutes, and had to pry worried students away from the site. Though much of the wreckage had already been removed by students, firefighters and paramedics quickly cleared the remaining debris, helping the last injured and affected students receive the care they needed. Small knots of students had formed as those uninjured were consoled, voices strained with fear and confusion. Dean of Campus Life Joe DiChristina and Dean of Students Chris Card also responded and were at 1715 Broad Street trying to sound out the unfolding situation.
Interim Director of Marketing Caroline Deveau sent an email out a little before 1 a.m. to inform the Trinity community of the incident.
Gradually, the crowd that surrounded 1715 Broad Street and covered Crescent Street and the adjoining parking lots began to disperse. Many left for dorms, talking in harried tones on phones to friends, trying to ensure that they were alright. As the entire campus gradually became aware of the ongoing horror on Broad Street, students went back to their dorms and to their friends, while in many places around campus, the usual Saturday night activities continued. The lights and music of some of the other frat houses played into the night.
The following days saw a mixture of relief and reconnoitering. Trinity’s administration was quick to reach out, informing the entire campus of the resources available to help students through any form of trauma brought about by the balcony collapse. Student responses to the tragedy varied from the compassionate to the crass and tasteless; a Yik Yak post appeared a few days after the accident showing 1715 Broad Street before the accident with a picture of the now-ubiquitous Harambe on the balconies captioned “the truth.”
Alec Buffamonte ’17, Kappa Sigma’s president, speaking in regard to the incident said, “We don’t necessarily feel responsible for what happened, but we feel badly that people came to see us and were injured on our property.” He elaborated that the College is not pursuing any investigation of Kappa Sigma and is reviewing the incident, a statement corroborated by Dean DiChristina.
Discussions about liability and legal ramifications began almost immediately after the collapse. Already coming to light are the facts that the College itself owned the property and maintained it through a real estate company, SML Real Estate, Inc.; within these discussions are mentions of structural integrity, local zoning laws, and individual accountability. Additionally, the company manages 12 other properties on Trinity’s behalf; notices have been sent to the residents of two apartments at one of the properties warning them against going out on their balconies. The precise form of all of the upcoming legal proceedings is unclear.
Some students registered disappointment with the College in the wake of incident. Buffamonte commented that “the College should have done its due diligence… they have an obligation to make sure that their properties are safe.”
Many observers simply expressed gratitude that the incident did not result in more dire consequences. The Tripod reached out to the Deputy Chief of Hartford Police Brian Foley and received no comment. Deputy Chief Foley did tweet a number of times throughout the night to communicate the ongoing events, at one point tweeting a picture of drinking paraphernalia on top of the balcony wreckage, sardonically noting “Yup. That’s a three-story beer bong.”
Trinity’s administration has contracted an independent investigator to examine the property’s structural integrity, circumventing the property management company. The College is no longer investigating the Kappa Sigma fraternity itself for responsibility in regards to the incident. The College reached out to those injured to communicate the establishment of a fund to help defray affected students’ medical expenses.
In the Chapel the day following the incident stony faces and upturned eyes fell upon a few Trinity administrators; the grim day made all the more so by the chaos of the night before. President Berger-Sweeney, Dean DiChristina, Dean Card, and Chaplain Read all spoke, expressing their sentiments of sympathy while simultaneously assuring the community of the resources available to help with coping. They also made note of the quick action Trinity students presented that night, lauding their selfless concern for others and immediate impulse to help their peers.

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