Two colleagues killed when a balcony support beam collapsed and they were thrown to the ground were victims of shoddy repairs, a court has heard.
Two colleagues killed when a balcony support beam collapsed and they were thrown to the ground were victims of shoddy repairs, a court has heard.

Balcony collapse deaths blamed on beam ‘made to fit’

A support beam that suddenly broke and caused a balcony to collapse - killing two workmates - was altered and "made to fit" to a Doncaster East home, a court has heard.

The collapse killed Croydon sales manager Cheryl Taylor, 59, and Reservoir woman Sarah Kajoba, 37, as they gathered with Tupperware colleagues to celebrate Christmas on December 16, 2017.

An inquest on Thursday heard evidence from Robert Capello, a civil engineer who examined the scene for an insurance company.

The balcony at the Doncaster East home. Picture: David Crosling
The balcony at the Doncaster East home. Picture: David Crosling

 

Police at the scene after the balcony collapsed. Picture: Seven News
Police at the scene after the balcony collapsed. Picture: Seven News

In his report, he detailed how the oregon timber beam that failed was "cut down and notched" from 250mm to 190mm and "slotted into the (house) brickwork and simply made to fit". The beam was also cracked and splintered.

Mr Capello said a pine support was installed underneath at some point, which suggested a "pre-existing defect or issue was known to exist" - possibly detected by the balcony bouncing - and he believed a "rudimentary attempt to strengthen the beam was undertaken".

The pine support was simply attached to the oregon beam with gang nails but was not fixed to a supporting structure at either end.

That would have removed any balcony bounce, but would not have foxed any of the pre-existing damage or issues, the report said.

Mr Capello said the repairs had not been completed by a "competent' tradesperson "or to any approved standards".

"The initial construction, subsequent maintenance and repairs, and long-term age-related decay are pre-existing issues that have resulted in the collapse of the structure."

Two people were killed in the incident. Picture: Seven News
Two people were killed in the incident. Picture: Seven News

 

Items strewn across the ground after the balcony collapsed.
Items strewn across the ground after the balcony collapsed.

Under cross-examination, Mr Capello agreed that the major crack in the beam caused it to fail.

The court heard on Wednesday that a 123kg fridge, a pizza oven, a barbecue, three coolers full of ice and drinks, and outdoor furniture were on the balcony, along with almost 30 people, when it collapsed.

An earlier witness said the balcony was overloaded, but Mr Capello said the safe load limit and minimum safety requirements had not been the focus of his report.

"It could be a factor but to what extent I can't answer," he said.

The three-day inquest is hearing whether the original balcony was fit for occupancy, whether its enlarged state complied with permits, and whether a rating system for balconies is feasible.

Ms Taylor died instantly after falling 2.7m onto a paved area, while Ms Kajoba died a few hours later in hospital.

andrew.koubaridis@news.com.au

Originally published as Balcony collapse deaths blamed on beam 'made to fit'


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