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Judge approves $1B+ deal in deadly Florida condo collapse

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Judge approves $1B+ deal in deadly Florida condo collapse

By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON and CURT ANDERSON

MIAMI (AP) — A judge gave final approval Thursday to a settlement topping $1 billion for victims of the collapse of a Florida beachfront condominium building that killed 98 people, one of the deadliest building failures in U.S. history.

The decision by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman came a day before the one-year anniversary of the Champlain Towers South disaster in the Miami suburb of Surfside. The judge praised the dozens of lawyers involved for averting what could have been years of litigation with no sure outcome.

“It will never be enough to compensate them for the tragic loss they have suffered,” the judge said. ”This settlement is the best we can do. It’s a remarkable result. It is extraordinary.”

The bulk of the $1.02 billion total will go to people who lost family members in the collapse of the 12-story building. About $100 million is earmarked for legal fees, and $96 million set aside for owners who lost one of the 136 units in the building.

No victims filed objections to the settlement or decided to opt out, said court-appointed receiver Michael Goldberg. Several people who lost family members or property said in court Thursday that they are grateful for such a swift conclusion to a horrific experience.

Raysa Rodriguez, who survived the collapse in a ninth-floor unit that was initially left intact, had nothing but praise for the outcome.

“You have no idea what a relief this is to me personally,” Rodriguez said. “I am so exhausted. I just want this to be done. I want these souls to rest.”

The ruling came during what’s called a fairness hearing, in which anyone with objections to the deal could raise them as the judge determined whether the settlement is “fair, reasonable and adequate,” according to court documents.

The money comes from several sources, including insurance companies, engineering firms and a luxury condominium whose recent construction next door is suspected of contributing to structural damage of Champlain Towers South. None of the parties admit any wrongdoing.

A billionaire developer from Dubai is set to purchase the 1.8-acre (1-hectare) beachside site for $120 million, contributing to the settlement.

Champlain Towers South had a long history of maintenance problems and questions have been raised about the quality of its original construction and inspections in the early 1980s. Other possible factors include sea level rise caused by climate change and damage caused by salt water intrusion.

A final conclusion on the cause is likely years away. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is leading the federal probe in to the collapse, recently said invasive testing will begin soon on samples of material from the collapse site.

The tests will help investigators find potential flaws in structural elements of the building by looking into things such as density of the materials, how porous they were and if there was corrosion, NIST said.

Florida will require statewide recertification of condominiums more than three stories tall under new legislation Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last month in response to the disaster.

The death toll in the Champlain Towers collapse ranks among the highest in U.S. history among similar disasters. The 1981 Hyatt Regency walkway collapse killed 114 people and a Massachusetts mill disaster in 1860 killed between 88 and 145 workers.

___

Anderson contributed to this story from St. Petersburg, Fla.

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A Pride timeline: Gay rights in Minnesota from 1858-2022

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A Pride timeline: Gay rights in Minnesota from 1858-2022

1858: Joseph Israel Lobdell, born Lucy Lobdell, is arrested for “impersonating a man.” A judge in the rural camp community of Forest City, Minn., sided with Lobdell, ruling that he did not act unlawfully.

1877: Minneapolis rules crossdressing as illegal, putting gender-nonconforming Minnesotans at risk for imprisonment.

1969: The Stonewall riots begin in New York City after police raids occur in the gay-friendly bars and community spaces of Lower Manhattan. These riots serve as a public turning point in American LGBTQ+ history.

May 18, 1969: University of Minnesota alumni found Fight Repression of Erotic Expression, or FREE, the first LGBTQ+ rights organization in the state. Founders Jack Baker and Michael McConnell become the first same-sex couple in the nation to apply for a marriage license, an application that is rejected by Hennepin County. Their legal case is dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court in one sentence.

1972: The first Twin Cities Pride celebration is held in Minneapolis’ Loring Park.

Dec. 9, 1972: Minnesota state Sen. Allan Henry Spear indicates he is gay in an interview with the Minneapolis Star, making him the first openly gay state legislator in the United States.

June 1982: Bruce Brockway becomes the first documented recipient of an HIV diagnosis in Minnesota. After his diagnosis, he founded the Minnesota AIDS Project to provide resources to HIV-positive Minnesotans.

1993: Gender- and sexuality-based discrimination is outlawed in Minnesota, making it the first state in the nation to adopt the policy.

1997: Sicaŋgu Lakota man Nicholas Metcalf and his partner, Korean-American Edd Lee, found the Minnesota Men of Color, an organization that focuses on the well-being of men, women and gender-nonconforming people of color.

2012: Amendment 1, which limits marriage rights to only heterosexual couples, is rejected by the majority of Minnesota voters. Same-sex marriage is legalized in the state.

June 2015: The U.S. Supreme Court releases a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges finding that same-sex marriage cannot be banned in any state and must be recognized nationally. Gay marriage is legalized.

June 25-26, 2022: After two years of pandemic-related cancellations, the Twin Cities Pride parade and festival returns to Minneapolis.

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Ramsey County official recalls Pride marches in the early 1980s: A time of AIDS, discrimination

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Brian Theine, manager of St. Paul Social Services, in his office overlooking the Mississippi River in St. Paul on June 23, 2022. (Bryson Rosell / Pioneer Press)

Growing up in the 1970s in small farming communities outside of Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., Brian Theine knew three things: He was gay, he wanted to help people, and he wanted to live in a more cosmopolitan place.

Theine would go on to become a social worker and land in Minneapolis in 1982, toward the height of the AIDS epidemic. Instead of Minnesota Nice, he said he discovered profound rejection. Some 100 to 200 members of the gay and lesbian community would gather annually at a beach by the area then known as Lake Calhoun for a solidarity walk to Loring Park. Along the way, the insults and jeers from bystanders came hard and fast, and they were relentless.

Celebrating Pride meant suffering through verbal assault, and sometimes real punches.

Gay media at the time carried news accounts of men who had been badly beaten as they were arrested by police for loitering in the park, and the graphic image of a Black man who’d had his teeth knocked out still haunts Theine some 40 years later.

“It was sort of a feeling of, ‘What kind of place did I come to?’ ” he recalled.

This weekend, during the 50th anniversary celebration of Twin Cities Pride, Theine is spending at least eight hours each day manning a Ramsey County Social Services booth in Loring Park, encouraging members of the GLBTQ community and their allies to become foster parents and open their doors to young people who may be struggling with their gender identity or who have faced rejection at home and bullying in school.

Underscoring the degree to which the social landscape has changed, some 400,000 people are expected for the Ashley Rukes GLBTQ Pride Parade on Sunday down Hennepin Avenue. The parade had been canceled for two years in a row during the pandemic.

While social acceptance and legal rights may be more widespread than in the 1980s, Theine considers the issues confronting many GLBTQ youth to be no less profound. Theine, a manager in Ramsey County Social Services, oversees foster care licensing for children and adults, adoptions and other family services. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Twin Cities Pride. A lot more people are openly gay today than 50 years ago. Is it safe to say we’ve come a long way?

I made that leap in the late ’70s, and it was a time of HIV and AIDS awareness impacting the community hard, and a difficult journey for the next 10 years of my life. In my job life here at Ramsey County, I led a mobile crisis team for 10 years, and part of what I did was make the rounds with police. We reached out to them to make a bridge. We said hey, we have social workers, I’m a social worker. Let’s work as a mental health team and change what’s happening in the community. In these later years, I had a much different relationship with the police. I would never have approached the police like that in 1984, whereas I feel much more comfortable doing that today.

Back in the early 1980s, how many folks would attend Pride?

Maybe 100 to 200. I have nothing against the parades of today, but they’re long, a huge number of people come to the park. In a good year, 400,000 people come to the park. It’s great. It’s a different feeling now than in the 1980s. There was sort of an area known as the gay beach, and there was a part of the beach where African-American people would gather up. That’s where the parade would start out from. It was grassroots.

You mentioned arriving in the Twin Cities during the HIV and AIDS epidemic. What was that like for you at the time?

Brian Theine, manager of St. Paul Social Services, in his office overlooking the Mississippi River in St. Paul. (Bryson Rosell / Pioneer Press)

At that time, I had friends and people who I had actually dated who ended up with HIV. It was a scary time, because there was not a lot known about it, services weren’t available to get help. Friends of mine who had been diagnosed at that time were told they had two years to live. One of my friends is still living with HIV. He lost a couple doctors along that way who died of it. Friends I’ve known have suicided. We were sort of the pariah because of HIV.

It was isolating, and making our community feel alone, but it was actually sort of unifying, too. Our lesbian sisters came to help their gay brothers when others wouldn’t do so. I was part of the founding of OutFront Minnesota — which in 1987 had a different name, the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council of Minnesota — because there weren’t a lot of support services at that time. We ran the hotlines, helping people get to therapy and direct care and making sure they had services in the home to try to have some quality of life. In a different job I was doing, I had to get people to volunteer to work on the floor of the nursing home where people went to rehab after the hospital, because finding staffing was a struggle.

A lot has changed legally, like the national legalization of gay marriage in 2015. And I’m sure a lot hasn’t changed depending upon where you are and what situation you’re in. Talk about your vantage point working in youth social services.

In the last three years or so, I came into this department of Children and Family Services to take on being a manager. There were people interested in this area of foster care and adoptions who wanted to work with the GLBTQ community to see if there was more they could do. The staff in our foster care and adoption unit also started showing up at Pride five years ago. At the same time, the department in social services here was getting consultation with the Human Rights Campaign, trying to figure out how to approach policies and procedures and change policies that needed to be refreshed.

If services didn’t join with our values, we wouldn’t place kids there. Today, we have had to move kids out of a foster home, or out of a residential treatment facility because of conflict with our policy. We all want to be accepted. Kids who identify as trans, or lesbian or gay, they’re no different from anybody else. We didn’t want to place them into placements where that was going to be a conflict. It’s written into our contracts for anyone who works with us, that recipients of our social services should not be subject to discrimination because of their race, gender expression, political beliefs, religion, etc. We’re not going to go into a contract with an agency in those kinds of situations.

How often would you assume kids in foster care are GLBTQ?

National numbers tell us as many as 30 percent of the kids identify. It’s a very GLBTQ community. Other surveys that are bit more local suggest it’s 27 percent, 28 percent, so it’s similar numbers. We’re trying to collect demographic data. We need to do that, because we have the anecdotal stories. That’s part of the systems change we’re working on.

Why are those numbers so large?

It’s one of those things that are hard to hear. We end up with kids who are homeless, living on the street as teens. They may need to do sex work to get inside and out of the cold on a cold winter night. Kids who are homeless had conflict in their homes. They’re struggling with gender identity or gender expression, and their home situation is too much to bear. The streets might feel safer than what they have at home.

There’s times we may need to reach out to a grandma or an aunt to say, ‘Can you take this kid in?’ It’s a whole variety of factors. There’s other things that happen to kids, like bullying in school, that still make coming out a hard time for people. There’s a lot of public schools that are trying to have Gay/Straight Alliances, or alliances to acknowledge our non-binary kids. But there’s these individual factors that can make life hard, and make it difficult to live without fear. And all of that contributes to what we’re seeing — kids who are couch-hopping or living on the street.

We need to reach out to their kinship support groups. People shouldn’t be in child protection just because they’re GLBTQ. They shouldn’t be in a group home or institutional care. We need to work with families upfront in a welfare way and not in a child-protection way. Ultimately, we don’t want any kid in foster care, and that’s part of our overall mission as a county — only to use foster care when we need it. That’s part of why we show up at Pride, to say, ‘Have you thought about being a foster parent?’ We need people who reflect the community. We keep saying it, and sometimes you have to hear it 15 times to get someone to sign up: ‘We need you.’

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Fundraising for North Dakota abortion clinic move tops $500K

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Fundraising for North Dakota abortion clinic move tops $500K

FARGO, N.D. — A fundraising campaign to help North Dakota’s sole abortion clinic move a few miles away to Minnesota has raised more than half a million dollars in two days.

The Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo will have to shut down in 30 days as part of the state’s trigger law that went into effect Friday, when the U.S. Supreme Court removed the constitutional right to abortion.

Tammi Kromenaker, owner and operator of the independent clinic, said Saturday she has secured a location across the river in neighboring Moorhead but stated earlier that she didn’t know how she would fund the move.

A GoFundMe page set up Friday to benefit the transition had raised over $515,000 from more than 6,000 donors as of late Saturday afternoon. The original goal was $20,000.

Abortion is legal in Minnesota and the state’s governor signed an order to help protect people seeking or providing abortions from facing legal action from other states.

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