For Nicole Dennis, Oct. 20 started out as a fun night.
The Greenville resident and University of South Carolina junior was on fall break and visiting friends in Clemson. She decided to join them at a party for Clemson’s Homecoming weekend.
The next morning, that party had become national news. The floor at the clubhouse of the Woodlands condo complex, where the party was hosted, fell in, leaving at least 30 people with physical injuries and sending more than two dozen to the hospital.
The occupancy for the upstairs of the clubhouse was 135 people. Videos posted to social media showed a packed room.
Dennis was one of the students who fell. She said the floor felt like a trampoline or waterbed before it happened. She remembers looking up and seeing all of her friends, still on the second floor.
“The whole thing was scary,” Dennis said.
For the students who were injured or present that night, the rest of the semester brought challenges, but also moments of resilience.
A few months out, some students have also retained lawyers. At the end of November, one student filed a complaint seeking damages from the property, the builder and the fraternity that hosted the party.
The night left Dennis’ thighs bruised and purple, and she could not move the fingers on one of her hands. She was one of the last to see an emergency responder that night.
Her hand felt better after a couple of days, but she did not know she had also bruised a rib. She started feeling pain later that week while lifting her arm.
Dennis said officials from the University of South Carolina reached out to her and said she could take time off if she needed. She decided to power through the semester.
“I probably should have taken a break,” the broadcast journalism major said. “I failed a couple of exams.”
Dennis attended a few on-campus counseling sessions, which she found helpful. She also learned later that there was another South Carolina student who was there that night. She appreciated having someone on her campus she could talk to about the night.
Clemson student Raven Guerra was also at the party, although she did not fall through the floor.
The week after the collapse, Clemson’s Counseling and Psychological Services held a session for students who were at the party. Guerra attended, and although she did not go back to counseling afterward, she knew of others who did.
Guerra said you could see some of the injured students on campus after the collapse. In particular, she remembered seeing a fellow student walking out of the student health center the week after the collapse with her leg wrapped up.
“I’m sitting here looking at this girl who I know fell through the floor, but anyone not truly in touch with the situation probably thought she just broke her leg or something,” Guerra said.
Since the collapse, Guerra said fraternities and sororities have continued to have parties, but hosts have sent out lists of regulations before events, advising students, for example, not to be on the second floor of a space unless they are entering or leaving.
“It’s not ruining future events, but people are learning from it,” she said.
Following the incident, the city also sent a letter to all rental property managers in town with advice for residents.
“We encourage you to remind your tenants that overcrowding a room and/or jumping up and down on a suspended floor may lead to disaster,” the letter from planning and codes director Todd Steadman read. “In some cases, the disaster may be a structural breach. In other cases, overcrowding may impede egress should a fire occur.”
One moment that resonated with Guerra since the collapse was a video of Na-Dya Gamble, a student left with significant injuries from the night.
The video from November was of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. probate, where new members of the organization are presented. In it, Gamble steps to the front of the stage on crutches and gives a speech to resounding cheers of support.
“These past couple of weeks have been some of the hardest weeks of my life. Period,” Gamble said. “Because of my loving family and supportive friends and these phenomenal women behind me, I am not only standing, but I am thriving.”
While there have been positive moments for Guerra, like seeing the video of Gamble, there have also been moments of frustration. On the first day of the spring semester, her roommate had a physics professor make a joke about the collapse.
“It is not funny to joke about even though it’s been a couple months,” Guerra said.
On Nov. 30, Gamble’s attorney, Stephen Wukela, filed a civil suit in Williamsburg County, where Gamble is from.
The complaint asks for “actual, consequential, and punitive damages” and says that the floor collapse caused Gamble, “severe personal injuries and damages.”
The suit names the Woodlands of Clemson Condominium Association, Inc., Woodlands Management of Clemson Inc., The Monaghan Company LLC and Tal Slann, who is president of Woodlands Management of Clemson, Inc., which manages about half of the apartments in the complex.
The lawsuit says all “engaged in the management of the clubhouse.” The suit says that they failed “to supervise the use of the clubhouse to ensure that it was not put to a use which might create danger to the Plaintiff or other invitees.”
Neil Monaghan, the broker in charge for Monaghan Co., said his company was wrongly named.
“It does not manage or control the clubhouse in any such manner,” Monaghan said in an email.
On Jan. 22, Tal Slann’s attorney, James Walsh, filed a response denying the allegations and asking for the complaint to be dismissed. Walsh did not respond to a request for further comment.
The suit also names the fraternity that hosted the party, the Kappa Lambda Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi and student Jamison J. Douglas, who reserved the clubhouse space.
“We are evaluating the situation following this very unfortunate accident and will be filing an answer,” said Bobby Hood, the attorney for Douglas and the national and local fraternity.
Dovetail Builders Inc. and Dovetail Development LLC, which developed and built the clubhouse, were also named. Dovetail Builders Inc. was dissolved in 2014, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. The number listed for Dovetail Development LLC was not active.
At the beginning of November, the city of Clemson received a report back from EFI Global, a firm that conducted a forensic investigation of the clubhouse floor.
The EFI report concluded that the “collapse was initiated by the rhythmic jumping up and down of the closely spaced crowd attending the party, overloading the trusses.”
The report said that there were no obvious deficiencies in the installation of the truss floor system.
For Guerra and Dennis, it can be hard to avoid conversations and thoughts about what happened.
“It’s not like a daily thought anymore, but it’s something that comes up every now and then like, `Hey, a floor collapsed. Crazy, right?”’ Guerra said. “It’s definitely a lingering feeling.”
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