By Angela Simmons & Sam Scinta
O’FALLON – One O’Fallon family’s time of mourning turned into a nightmare as a deck collapsed at 1330 Winding Creek Court. Between 50 and 60 relatives had gathered after a funeral to have a meal together Between ten and 15 family members fell as many as twelve feet at the time of the collapse.
“My cousin, Lori Johnson, her husband Terrell just passed, so we were here coming together as a family. We were cooking, and they were out in the back barbecuing. The whole deck just fell. It just fell… totally collapsed.They were just standing there. There wasn’t any jumping, nothing, they were just standing there,” said Alicia Mitchom, Johnson’s cousin.
She continued “We heard a big noise, I thought it was thunder myself. Just a big bang, and it collapsed. We didn’t know what was going on, and someone screamed and said the deck collapsed.”
Family members that were inside had to go out the front and around to get to their loved ones. Mitchom said the children that were at the gathering had been outside playing, but had been called inside to come eat.
“I came in to put the mustard back inside the fridge, and next thing I know, I heard boom! It sounded like an explosion. That would have been me. I would have been out there, too, if I hadn’t gone back inside. this is the one time I’m glad that I put the mustard away,” said Rene Butler, also a cousin and a Fairview Heights resident.
The official call to emergency dispatchers came in at 9:11 p.m, and there was an initial report of a deck collapse with between 30 and 60 people, with several entrapped within the debris. The home is a rental property, and the owner of the house was on the scene after the accident. When first responders arrived at the property, they found the number was closer to 10 to 15, and that nobody had been trapped underneath the debris. All of the victims were adults, as no children were injured in what the Police Department is labeling an accident. No criminal investigation is underway at this time.
Of those involved, there was one person in critical condition and five in non-critical condition. Sergeant Eric Buck, the Shift Commander, said only five total were transported to the hospital, as one likely refused treatment from EMTs on the scene.
Buck said “The initial call was that there were 30 to 60 people with entrapment. It was more like 10 to 15 people that were on top of the deck. Injuries ranged. There were some broken legs and one critical injury, but no children.” He did confirm that children were playing under the deck immediately before the collapse, but they were unharmed. Buck did not know the age ranges of the victims.
“I can’t comment on the structural integrity of it. There’s no criminal investigation into it. It just looks like an accident. The house is about 30 years old, and the deck may or may not have also been built around then. We’re not sure. It came detached from the back of the house, and kind of collapsed straight down. There were stairs attached to it, but it all collapsed straight down,” Buck said.
The most recent tragedy is leaving the family reeling after the sudden death of Johnson.
“They found Terrell dead on Monday, here at home. Lori was in Virginia, and she was trying to reach him to tell her when to come pick her up from the airport. My husband was supposed to be coming over to get Terrell, but he wasn’t answering his texts. Police had to come in and find him. Terrell’s brother, Bryant Johnson, is an Illinois State trooper, and he came over and couldn’t get in, so he had to call the O’Fallon Police Department,” Butler explained.
Sergeant Eric Buck did confirm that O’Fallon police officers did a wellness check and found Johnson deceased on Monday, April 2. Johnson was a veteran that served 31 years in the military before retiring. He was 55 when he passed. Mitchom said the family would try their best to move forward and heal, with this newest tragedy increasing their grief. She also said that one of the Johnson’s daughters was on the deck when it fell, and she was injured. She said “We’re just praying that everyone is okay.”
O’Fallon first responders had help from other surrounding departments at the scene, and the departments were pulled in several different directions as multiple emergency calls came in. Buck said at least seven O’Fallon police officers responded. At the time of the call, Sgt. Buck, another officer, and an EMS crew were responding to a medical call, and were performing life-saving CPR measures. Roughly one minute after the call for the deck collapse was made, there was a multi-car accident within the jurisdiction of Shiloh on Interstate 64, which pulled resources away from the scene of the deck collapse.
In addition to O’Fallon first responders, two Mascoutah EMS ambulances, four Abbott EMS ambulances, and one Medstar EMS ambulance responded to the call. O’Fallon had seven police officers in addition to two fire trucks and three command officers on the scene, according to Sergeant Buck and Fire Chief Brent Saunders.
“We train for this stuff. It’s always gut wrenching when it comes in, but everyone kind of gets in their zone, and it always works well. I have so many texts from the Fairview shift commander, the Mascoutah shift commander offering help. It’s almost too much to even acknowledge, but their offer to help means a lot,” said Sgt. Buck.
“There’s a lot of communities where the emergency services do not work well together, but O’Fallon is not one of those. We work side by side. this area is great across the board. Whenever one of us need something, someone always steps up to help out,” Chief Saunders said.
City of O’Fallon code inspectors were on the scene after the first responders cleared the victims to see what caused the collapse. As of press time, there is no timeline as to when the findings would be made public.