NEW ALBANY, Indiana (WAVE) – “My life flashed before my eyes.” Those are the words of one of 24 people who fell more than one story to the ground after a deck collapsed in southern Indiana days before Christmas.
The family involved is now suing the people who made and maintained the deck, and they want others to see what happened in hopes it won’t happen again.
“Everybody was sitting down, and Brittany was about to take the picture, and boom.” That’s how 8-year-old Ainsley Wilt described what happened in an iPhone video moments after the collapse.
Security camera footage of the deck collapse from victims, who are now suing the deck builder and the homeowners association that ran the clubhouse where the incident happened.
“Some people called this a freak accident,” said Jeremy Wilt, whose wife and daughter were on the deck when it collapsed. “A meteorite hitting your house would be a freak accident. This was going to fall one day.”
That day turned out to be December 22, 2013 during a Christmas party hosted by Lisa Wilt for her extended family. As everyone gathered for a group picture, smiles turned to screams.
“It just gave way,” Lisa said.
Lisa’s dad Jerry DeVary slammed into a support beam on his way to the cement 15 feet below.
“We were in shock, just saying how could this happen,” DeVary said.
He was one of a number of family members taken to hospitals.
Jeremy Wilt, a nurse, was at work when the deck collapsed and joined the team of emergency responders. He said those most seriously injured were standing along the railing.
“The people in the back all fell straight down and the deck fell away from them,” Wilt said, “so they did not get the benefit of landing on the deck first or the benefit of landing on somebody behind them.”
The family says three of the people injured still aren’t walking. Others were more fortunate.
A 13-month-old baby escaped unhurt thanks to her father, who clutched her in his arms as they fell. Another man caught a sliding deck bench with one arm to keep it from crushing people below.
A spokesman for Schuler Homes, Inc., the company that built the deck, said the law shields them from liability because the deck is more than 10 years old. Calls to John Karaffa, president of the Wolf Lake Homeowners Association, the other group named in the lawsuit because it’s responsible for maintaining the deck, have not been returned.
Jeremy Wilt is now spearheading a grassroots public awareness campaign using the images of what happened to his family in a YouTube video about deck safety. Click here to watch it.
Jeremy said he wants to teach people the warning signs of a collapse. Red flags, the family claims, went unnoticed in this case.
“We want the public to know what to look for so something like this doesn’t happen to them,” he said.
The North American Deck and Railing Association says the number of aging and failing decks has been increasing at an alarming rate, so it’s crucial for homeowners to check their decks for proper support and the warning signs of a potential collapse. For a ten point checklist of what to look for, click here.