Engineers Blame Terrace Structure

Monday, July 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MIDDLE BASS ISLAND, Ohio (AP) — Some say they heard rumbling. Others recalled they had no warning. Suddenly, revelers dropped 20 feet at a winery on a Lake Erie island when a concrete terrace buckled.

``I heard some rumbling, kind of like thunder. The next thing I know, I'm lying on the ground,'' said Mike Bowman of Valparaiso, Ind.

One person was killed and at least 75 people were injured at the Lonz Winery when the terrace floor gave way Saturday, dropping victims into an old wine cellar.

Structural engineers Sunday examined the concrete flooring and the steel beams that supported the terrace. An early review led engineers to suspect the collapse was caused by a structural problem, not an overload of people, said Ottawa County Sheriff Craig Emahiser.

``It's going to be a long process before we can tell what exactly happened,'' Emahiser said.

Workers on Sunday first had to stabilize the remaining walls before anyone could go into the rubble.

``It was just too dangerous to be down in there,'' the sheriff said. That delay slowed the investigation for a few hours.

Police kept boaters 300 feet from the island as tourists tried to see the damage at the lakefront terrace of the winery's century-old main building, a fortresslike mansion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The collapse left a 16- to 18-foot-wide hole in the floor of the terrace.

The sheriff said the terrace was built in 1964, and he wasn't sure when it was last inspected.

There were a few thousand people at the winery Saturday, but only 100 were on the 25-by-20-foot terrace, said Put-in-Bay Police Chief Jim Lang.

George Prusock, 25, of Mayfield Heights, was attending a bachelor party at the winery.

``It was our buddy's last hurrah before he got married,'' Prusock said. ``The next thing you know, the floor collapsed and he's under the pop machine. The floor just dropped. Nobody had any time to react.''

Most people were drinking wine coolers and singing along with a piano player on a nearby stage. ``Nobody was dancing in that area, the floor just gave out,'' Fire Chief Mark Wilhelm said.

Larry Read, a piano player from Milan, Mich., was on stage.

``It was a gorgeous afternoon. Everybody was enjoying the day,'' Read said. ``It was extremely crowded, a typical holiday weekend.''

After the collapse, he ran from the stage to the edge of the terrace.

``I looked down in the hole, and there were people just laying down there,'' Read said.

He ran back to the stage and led those who weren't injured in the Lord's Prayer. ``Everybody joined in,'' Read said.

Among those who helped pull people from the rubble were Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Steve Zahursky and New York Giants receiver Joe Jurevicius.

``It got pretty chaotic. I carried out maybe 14-15 people out of there,'' Zahursky said.

Though the winery is on an island and is normally a 20-minute ferry ride from the Ohio shoreline, emergency crews arrived within 10 minutes of getting the call. When they got there, everybody already had been pulled out by people in the crowd.

``We had people pouring out of the walls to help,'' Wilhelm said.

Doctors who were nearby rushed over to assist. Those who weren't injured began moving chunks of concrete and broken picnic tables.

``People pulled doors off hinges to create backboards'' to carry the injured out the door of the wine cellar where the victims and rubble fell, said Steve Ernst, 31.

The dead man was identified as Mark Reighard, 29, of Columbus, said Mike Drusbacky of the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency.

Eight of the most seriously injured were flown by helicopter to St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo. As of early Monday, five were in stable condition, and three were in serious condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The winery sits on about 120 acres on Middle Bass Island, which is about six miles from the mainland and north of Sandusky. Only about 40 people live on the island but as many as 1,500 visitors stay during busy summer weekends.

Although the Lonz Winery was famous as a winery in the 19th century, grapes haven't been grown there for more than 20 years. The state is buying the site for $6.75 million to build a park.


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