A grand jury in New Orleans declined to indict anyone in the 2019 fatal construction collapse at the Hard Rock Hotel site that killed three men and injured dozens. The decision ended chances of gross negligence charges.
The panel returned a “no true bill” verdict, meaning it found insufficient evidence of criminal liability for at least nine juries incurred during the Oct. 12, 2019 incident, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office confirmed. Under state law, prosecutors have four years to pursue gross negligence charges.
“Unfortunately, criminal negligence carries a much higher burden than civil negligence, and upon deliberating, the jurors decided there simply wasn’t enough certainty to proceed,” DA Jason Williams said in a statement to the Associated Press.
In addition to the fatalities and injuries, the incident damaged nearby property and closed the area along Canal Street, a major thoroughfare, for more than a year. Video shows the topmost floors tumbling down before one side of the building crashed onto Canal and Rampart streets.
Citadel Builders was the general contractor, Heaslip Engineering was the structural engineer and Harry Baker Smith Architects was the architect on the project.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the columns on the 17th and 18th floors were too far apart. In March 2020, OSHA ended its investigation and cited the project’s lead engineer Heaslip for “willful” and “serious” violations that compromised the building’s structural integrity. The citation came with over $150,000 in fines.
OSHA issued another $160,000 in penalties and cited 10 other companies, including Citadel Builders and steel contractor Suncoast Projects, for various safety violations. OSHA did not cite 1031 Canal, the developer.
In August 2020, New Orleans filed a lawsuit against 1031 Canal and more than a dozen contractors, engineers and insurers, claiming the owner Mohan Kailas and his partners and contractors were responsible for the collapse and the resulting damages.
The suit alleges the collapse and response efforts strained the city’s resources and damaged streets, infrastructure and other public property, and cost taxpayers more than $12.3 million.
The site is now clear and future development is undetermined.