Six years ago, my mother called me into our kitchen to tell me my high school classmate, John Jackson, had died.
He was killed in a Lincoln Park porch collapse, which also killed 10 others, when an overloaded porch detached from the building.
I was shocked, of course, and heartened by the outpouring of support for John's family at his funeral in Kansas City. And as a result of John's accident, I find myself wary when on a crowded porch.
The story itself is horriffic. On June 29, 2003, a number of young people gathered at Lincoln Park summer to celebrate a summer weekend night. The weather was Chicago's best, the Cubs were getting hot, and it was a reason to gather with friends.
And when too many people were standing on the porch behind the building, it came loose, sending dozens of people tumbling three stories below.
Many were injured. Too many were killed.
The stories I heard after the incident were awful. One girl, I heard, was about to set foot on the porch when it fell. Another person, I was told, clung to the doorway as the timber fell.
Today, according to a Tribune report yesterday, the families are still mired in legal proceedings, and rotting, poorly-maintained porches are still a huge problem in Chicago.
Total porch violations for the past four years have plummeted, according to data from the Department of Buildings.
Data from Department of Buildings
The Lincoln Park tragedy led to more stringent building regulations in Chicago, but it seems we keep hearing about some terrible accident that happens on a porch.
The Trib story cites several, and includes an incredible picture of a collapsed porch.
Last year, a man died after the railing of a Roscoe Village apartment broke. In May, three people were injured after another incident in Lincoln Park. That incident involved an indoor landing, though, and not a porch.
Bill McCaffrey, Department of Buildings spokesman, says the city inspects a minimum of about 8,000 porches a year. Its conservation bureau looks at between 10,000 to 15,000 buildings a year; 5,000 or so have porches.
Per the Tribune's story, be on the lookout for the following indicators of a dangerous porch:
- Split or rotting wood.
- Evidence of water damage.
- Loose, rusting or missing hardware or bolts.
- Loose or missing anchors where the porch attaches to the building.
- Excessive movement of the structure when walked on.
- Wobbly handrails or guardrails.
Porches are one of the joys of Chicago summers, I've found, but if not properly maintained, they can be dangerous.
Have you experienced dangerous porches, or seen porches in disrepair?
And if you'd like to know more about John, a scholar-athlete and graduate of Georgetown, his family set up the JTJ Foundation. More information can be found HERE.