Demolition of Ravaged Complex Ordered

'Controlled' destruction of Northridge apartments to aid probe of temblor tragedy

Jeanne Mariani
Daily News - March 19, 1994

A judge ordered Friday the "controlled demolition" of Northridge Meadows apartment complex, which partially collapsed during the Jan. 17 earthquake killing 16 people.

Superior Court Judge Judith M. Ashmann said the dismantling of the three-story building would give relatives of two people who died there a chance to collect evidence in their lawsuits against the building's owners, builders and architects.

When the demolition does take place it is to be done in a controlled fashion to preserve evidence," Ashmann said.

No date was announced, but the demolition of the 21-year-old apartment building that has become a macabre tourist attraction in Northridge is expected to begin within weeks.

Ashmann issued the order after the building's owner, Shashikant J. Jogani withdrew his request to block public release of information generated in a private investigation into the building's construction materials and workmanship.

Jogani's attorney, Robert Freedman, said the request was withdrawn to avoid the insinuation that Jogani had something to hide or that he was trying to impede the investigation.

"My client made it very clear that he doesn't want even the perception that there is anything that he is trying to hide," Freedman said after the hearing. "He is devastated because of this incident and he also wants to know why this building fell."

Jogani is named along with several other defendants in a civil lawsuit filed Feb. 28 on behalf of the families of two elderly women that claims construction defects and inadequate construction materials contributed to the collapse.

Angeline Cerone, 72, and Beatrice Reskin, 75, were among the 16 people killed when the magnitude 6.8 earthquake collapsed portions of the three-story structure.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

The hearing Friday attracted a courtroom of attorneys who say they represent families of at least five other victims who also died in the apartment collapse and are anticipating lawsuits.

Attorney Joel Castro said his private investigation has found construction and design defects.

"We want to complete our investigations, which would require the controlled demolition before we are in a position to say that this is what we believe was the exact cause and how it impacted the structure," Castro said.

Attorneys and structural engineers involved in the case will work with the city of Los Angeles, picking the building apart floor by floor and examining walls, structural connections and construction materials, Castro said.

The demolition, which may be financed with funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is expected to take 10-14 days, he added.

Castro expects to find his best evidence buried on the first floor--where all 16 victims died.

Freedman said his client welcomes that investigation and had nothing to do with the construction and design of the complex nor the materials used during construction.

In fact, Jogani will seek indemnification from the construction company that built the Meadows.

"He (Jogani) is a victim...His prized property collapsed and his tenants died," Freedman said. Both emotionally and financially, he is devastated. His tenants are like his family. He didn't build this building and he didn't do anything wrong.

"These things that Mr. Castro is producing involves materials used during the construction which was 10 years before my client even saw this building," the attorney said.

Named in Castro's civil lawsuit are builders Brian Heller and Burton S. Ury of Heller Construction, structural engineer Woodward Tom and architect Morris Brown.

An attorney for Heller said the company complied with codes when the structure was built in the early 1970s.

"The question is whether or not it complied with the standards in existence at that time, rather than whether it complied with a certain set of plans," said Jon Mower, Heller's lawyer.