Warning signs of collapse were there, woman says - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Warning signs of collapse were there, woman says

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email and Lori Brown - bio | email | Follow us on Twitter

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Teams descended upon the Benchmark Hotel in downtown Memphis Monday to begin their work, trying to determine what caused a two-story section of an exterior wall to peel away Sunday morning.  The resulting crash of bricks and signage landed on Faye Hall, 40, critically injuring her.

Monday, a spokesperson for the city of Memphis said the team studying the damage includes structural engineers from Memphis and Shelby County's Code Enforcement Department, and Denny's.

Their task is complicated, as city workers already swept up all the pieces to their puzzle into a pile on the sidewalk. 

As investigators worked, they took pictures, made phone calls and talked amongst themselves behind a barrier of yellow police tape.

No one at the scene would talk about the collapse, but Toni Holmon-Turner, spokesperson for Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, said structural engineers were assessing the building for structural integrity.

Meanwhile, one person said there may have been signs the collapse was imminent. Motorist Wendi Williams believes she saw the warning signs during a drive downtown Saturday night.

"I just happened to look up and there was this big bulge coming from the building," she said.

Williams was with a relative at a stop light downtown when she saw it.

"It looked like putty," she said. "I told my husband's aunt, that wall looks like it's about to fall"

Williams drove on, believing the hotel already knew about the problem.

"I don't see how you couldn't have noticed it.  It was that big of a bulge.  You could have not noticed something was wrong with the wall," she said.

Monday, back at the Benchmark Hotel, owner Michael Roberts said his heart goes out to the Hall family.

"We are a family business and we understand the importance of family.  For this to have happened, it breaks our heart," he said.

Monday, Roberts sent a team of engineers to Memphis to find out why the wall outside his downtown hotel collapsed onto Faye Hall.

"We have individuals who came up from Jackson, Mississippi, from Orlando, Florida, from Kentucky and from St. Louis all to arrive within no less than a ten hour span," he said.

According to Roberts, what caused the wall to collapse is unclear.

"We know that one our tenants there, Denny's, has recently undergone renovations and we're evaluating what role, if any, that may have played with the losing, loss of the structural integrity of that area, which is right above their business," he said.

Roberts said the structure has been safe for the past 28 years, with the only major change being the recent Denny's renovations.

Roberts added he had future plans to renovate.

"We're planning a major renovation of the property to make it look pristine and new and compliment the neighborhood, but we're very sorry that his has occurred," he said.

Roberts said his first priority is Faye Hall.

"Our hearts, our prayers, our best wishes are going out to the Hall family," he said.

Both the Denny's and the Benchmark Hotel are still open.  The city's Engineering Division expects to reopen the affected section of Union at Third Street on or before Wednesday.

Motorists are advised to use an alternate route while repairs to the building are made.

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