Structure Collapse Near Summerfest

A 30-foot concrete slab broke off a lakefront parking structure Thursday and fell to the ground, killing one person and injuring two others, the Milwaukee County sheriff said.

The heavy slab collapsed about 4 p.m., just as thousands of people were pouring into downtown Milwaukee to attend the kickoff of a major music festival down the street.

Video is available HERE

It wasn’t immediately clear how far the slab fell. Firefighters had used a large blue tarp to cover the affected area, which extended about one story up on part of the facade.

Sheriff David Clarke withheld the victims’ names, ages and genders pending notification of relatives. Hospital officials confirmed one victim was being treated at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, while the other was taken to a children’s hospital.

Clarke joined Milwaukee police Chief Edward Flynn and Milwaukee County district attorney John Chisholm at a hastily called press conference across the street from the parking structure. They each emphasized the accident was being thoroughly investigated and said it was too early to offer further details.

“There’s a long way to go,” Clarke said. “We want to do this right.”

The collapse was at the entrance to the William F. O’Donnell parking garage on Lincoln Memorial Drive, within a few blocks of Summerfest. The event, which bills itself as the world’s largest music festival, kicked off its 11-day run Thursday.

A man identified as Dave Jenkins told WTMJ-TV he was across the street when the slab gave way.

“I didn’t hear any kind of sound, then all of a sudden, foom,” he said, mimicking a falling wall with his hands. “There was no warning that something was happening.”

A grassy area across the street was roped off with yellow police tape, where scores of people who had parked in the structure waited for permission to re-enter. Officers told them they’d have to wait indefinitely, perhaps for hours.

Many of people waiting didn’t know there had been a fatality, including Judy Pierce, 53, of Lake Bluff, Ill. She had arrived at Summerfest about noon and by 6 p.m. was sitting on the grass outside the parking structure joking with strangers about whether they’d need sleeping bags for the night.

“I’m frustrated,” she said. “I’m ready to get back home.”

Jeff Meinen, 47, of Germantown lingered with his wife, two kids, his daughter’s friend and a college buddy. He too wasn’t immediately aware of the death, and tried to remain upbeat while passing the time.

“It’s a nice day out. At least it’s not raining,” he said. “Hopefully our car’s not crushed.”