A 15-year-old boy who miraculously survived the Miami condo collapse was sitting in his bedroom next to his mother when the building gave way and she was killed, according to a lawsuit filed by the family.
Jonah Handler was found alive hours after the 12-story oceanfront building collapsed on June 24, though his mother, Stacie Fang, 54, died after she was rushed to the hospital.
‘They free-fell to what they thought was certain death,’ the lawsuit filed on July 8 in Miami-Dade County’s 11th Judicial Circuit Court states.
The legal action names as a defendant the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association. It was filed by Stacie’s brother, Kevin Fang, and Jonah’s father, Neil Handler.
As of Sunday, at least 15 lawsuits have been filed in connection with the condo collapse.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava on Sunday announced that the death toll had risen to 90 – up from 86 a day before.
Among them are 71 bodies that have been identified, and their families have been notified, she said. Some 31 people remain listed as missing.
Jonah Handler was found alive hours after the 12-story oceanfront building collapsed, though his mother, Stacie Fang, 54, died after she was rushed to the hospital
Dramatic images show first responders pull Jonah out of the rubble hours after the building collapsed
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on Sunday that 90 deaths have now been confirmed in last month’s collapse, up from 86 a day before
The Miami-Dade Police Department said three young children were among those recently identified.
‘Stacie and Jonah landed several floors below and miraculously were still alive,’ according to the lawsuit.
Rescue crews who responded to the scene pried Jonah out of the rubble using Air Jacks.
‘Jonah lived, but with devastating injuries,’ according to the court papers. ‘Tragically, his mother was killed.
According to the lawsuit, Jonah was left ‘physically, emotionally, and psychologically permanently injured.’
‘They free-fell to what they thought was certain death,’ according to the lawsuit which was filed on July 8 in Miami-Dade County’s 11th Judicial Circuit Court
The legal action names as a defendant the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association. The suit was filed by Stacie’s brother, Kevin Fang, and Jonah’s father, Neil Handler
The lawsuit accuses the condo association of ignoring a 2018 report by structural engineers who cited widespread damage
The lawsuit accuses the condo association of ignoring a 2018 report by structural engineers who cited widespread damage.
Owners of units in the condo building were just days away from a deadline to start making steep payments toward more than $9 million in major repairs that had been recommended nearly three years earlier.
That cost estimate, from the Morabito Consultants engineering firm in 2018, meant owners at Champlain Towers South were facing payments of anywhere from $80,000 for a one-bedroom unit to $330,000 or so for a penthouse, to be paid all at once or in installments. Their first deadline was July 1.
One resident whose apartment was spared, Adalberto Aguero, had just taken out a loan to cover his $80,000 bill.
The lawsuit alleges that the condo association is guilty of negligence resulting in wrongful death. It is seeking in excess of $30,000.
Jonah was pulled from the wreckage by first responders along with the help of man who was walking his dog just as the building came down, Nicholas Balboa.
Describing the moment he spotted Jonah, Balboa said it appeared the boy was sleeping when the building came down.
‘There was a bed frame and a mattress that were laying above him, so I could only assume that that was his bed, judging by the size of the mattress,’ Balboa told Local10 .
Stacie and Jonah are seen in the above undated file photo
Stacie lived with her son on the 10th floor of the condominium building in Surfside
‘You know, so he was probably just sleeping and then all of a sudden the building gave way.’
The teen stuck his hand up through the rubble and was spotted amongst the rubble.
‘He was saying: “Please don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t leave me.” So I told him: “We’re right here. We won’t leave you.” That’s when I tried to signal police officers and firefighters to get over there,’ Balboa said.
Video from the scene showed the boy being carried out by firefighters on a stretcher after the Champlain Towers South beachfront building collapsed at about 1.30am on Thursday in Miami’s Surfside neighborhood.
The boy, a 10th grader at Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, was then taken to hospital with broken bones.
‘He said his mother was in the apartment with him, so I couldn’t see her or hear her, so I have no idea what her status was, but I do pray that she is alright,’ Balboa said.
‘As for him, you know, he’s a guardian angel. That’s all I can say. Given what happened, he came out unscathed.’
Looking at the rubble, Balboa said he thought of the September 11 attacks and likened the scene opening before his eyes to something ‘out of a horror movie.’
‘I was thinking to myself, ‘How could anyone survive?” he said.
Crews on Sunday continued to search the remaining pile of rubble, peeling layer after layer of debris in search of bodies.
The unrelenting search has resulted in the recovery of over 14 million pounds of concrete and debris, Levine Cava said.
Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said it was uncertain when recovery operations would be completed because it remains hard to know when the final body would be found.
Video from the scene showed Handler being rescued by fire crews after the Champlain Towers South beachfront building collapsed at about 1.30am on June 24
Nicholas Balboa spoke to CNN about his role in rescuing the child from the collapsed building in Miami
When the recovery phase began Wednesday, officials were hoping it could be done within three weeks.
In an interview Sunday morning near the site, Cominsky said it might now be as few as two weeks, based on the current pace of work.
‘We were looking at a 14-day to 21-day timeframe,’ he said, adding that the timeline remained ‘a sliding scale.’
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett stressed the care that rescue workers are taking in peeling back layers of rubble in hopes of recovering not only bodies but also possessions of the victims.
He said the work is so delicate that crews have found unbroken wine bottles amid the rubble.
‘It doesn’t get any less difficult and finding victims, that experience doesn’t change for our search and rescue folks,’ he said.
‘It takes a toll, but you’ve got to love the heart that they’re putting into this and we´re very grateful.’
On Saturday night, members of the community walked along Collins Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, to celebrate the crews that have come from across the country – and as far as Israel and Mexico – to help in the rescue, and now recovery, effort.
The Israeli search and rescue team arrived in South Florida shortly after the building collapsed on June 24 and was heading home Sunday.
Members of the crews that have been searching the site 24 hours a day since the collapse lined both sides of the street, shaking hands and bidding farewell to the Israeli team.
The Israeli team joined other task forces from around the United States to assist first responders from Miami and Miami-Dade County, working in 12-hour shifts.
They have searched through South Florida’s intense summer heat, and in pouring rain, pausing only when lightning was spotted nearby.
They also paused operations as officials made plans to implode the still-standing portion of the condo tower on July 4.
The Israeli team used blueprints of the building to create detailed 3D images of the disaster site to aid in the search.
They also gathered information from families of the missing, many of who were Jewish, to build a room-by-room model laying out where people would have been sleeping during the pre-dawn collapse.
Levina Cava said the memorial walk on Saturday night was ‘a beautiful moment.’
She gave the keys to the county to the Israeli commander and colonel – her first two handed out as mayor.
Four teams from Florida, Indiana and Pennsylvania are still dedicated to the recovery effort, Cominsky said.
Teams from Virginia, New Jersey and Ohio are preparing to leave.
‘To give you an answer when we feel we’ll recover everyone, I can’t give you an exact date,’ the fire chief said.
‘We’re doing everything that we can – everything possible – until we feel that we’ve delayered every floor.’