8 injured in rooftop collapse near Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo

Emergency crews at the scene of a roof collapse in San Luis Obispo.
Emergency crews at the scene of a roof collapse in San Luis Obispo.

At least eight people were injured early Saturday when a garage roof collapsed under the weight of nearly 50 students celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at a block party near Cal Poly that appeared to be a fraternity-based event.

In addition to the injuries, two partygoers were treated for extreme intoxication Saturday morning at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

Police arrested two people on suspicion of public intoxication and one on suspicion of cocaine possession, cited party hosts for noise violations and issued four citations for minors in possession of alcohol, two citations for urinating in public, and eight traffic tickets at what was dubbed a “St. Fratty’s Day” event.

In a message to the campus community Saturday, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong expressed concern for the students injured, questioned the judgment of those involved and said, “The university will investigate all aspects of this incident and will respond appropriately once the facts are known.”

All fraternities and sororities at Cal Poly have been on social probation since mid-January, which means they are banned from hosting any parties either at Greek houses or elsewhere. The probation was initiated after reports of several possible sexual assaults at fraternity houses.

Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said in a statement, “Should a Greek Life organization have connections to today’s event, the university reserves the right to exercise additional options regarding the status of social fraternities and sororities. Once we have all the facts, the university will respond swiftly and accordingly.”

The incident began at 6:20 a.m., when San Luis Obispo police were called to a home at

364 Hathway Ave. for a report of a collapsed structure and injuries. Police already had started getting complaints of a loud party in the Hathway Avenue neighborhood as early as 4:45 a.m., Capt. Chris Staley said.

The party actually began at a house next door and then spread into the neighboring property, where as many as 50 people may have been on the garage roof when it collapsed, said San Luis Obispo Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Gater.

Ambulances took three people to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and others went on their own, as well as to French Hospital Medical Center, according to the hospitals.

At Sierra Vista, one person was admitted for lower extremity pain and a concussion, while eight others were treated and released. One patient was impaled in the thigh by a piece of wood, one person was treated for a neck injury and another for a back injury, three suffered cuts and bruises and two were treated for extreme intoxication, hospital spokesman Ron Yukelson said.

At French hospital, one person was treated for a sprained ankle and released, spokeswoman Megan Maloney said.

Gater said as many as 3,000 people were probably partying along Hathway Avenue during the early morning. The neighborhood, which abuts the Cal Poly campus, is predominantly student rentals.

“What happened,” Gater said, “Which so often happens in that part of town, is that people flocked to the area” when they heard about the party via social media.

The St. Fratty’s Day party is traditionally held the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day but this year was pushed up two weeks so it wouldn’t interfere with finals, some students said.

One man at the scene, who refused to give his name, said students organized the event two weeks ahead of St. Patrick’s Day to avoid the city’s “safety enhancement zone ordinance,” in which fines are doubled during St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween and Mardi Gras.

The ordinance is the city’s attempt to crack down on out-of-control parties, with doubled fines for possession of an open container, noise violations, unruly gatherings, public urination and possession of dangerous weapons. First offense violations double to $700 from $350 and second offenses increase to $1,000 from $700.

Fines for violations of a separate unruly gathering ordinance are $1,000 and noise violation fines are $700. The city’s social host ordinance also levies a $2,000 fine for anyone hosting party where people under 21 are drinking.

At midmorning Saturday, students decked out in green T-shirts, beads and other festive garb were still milling around the street. One girl stood in the middle of Hathway Avenue, blowing a whistle and inviting cars to stop.

Staley said the incident was “completely unprecedented.”

“We’ve never had anything like this,” he said, adding that the event 10 days before

St. Patrick’s Day caught the police department off guard.

Armstrong’s message to the campus community stated: “Our thoughts are with those who were injured, and are grateful to the first responders. We are also fortunate that the outcome was not worse.

“This event raises significant concern about the judgment exercised by both the party organizers and attendees regarding the health and safety of themselves and others. Behavior like this has no place in San Luis Obispo and is counter to the expectation we have of Cal Poly students.”

Cal Poly Dean of Students Jean DeCosta had emailed students Wednesday, warning them to behave responsibly during the holiday period and the end of the school quarter.

“Violations of campus policies or criminal laws regarding alcohol may result in severe academic sanctions or a permanent criminal record,” she wrote. “The campus police and San Luis Obispo City Police are stepping up patrols with larger deployment of officers and increase in fines for the weekend.”

DeCosta ticked off the fines students could face, and also noted that the Greek system was under social probation.

When police and firefighters first responded to the roof collapse, a mass casualty incident was declared. Yukelson said Sierra Vista was initially told to expect 30 to 50 patients and called in additional staff and physicians, using its standard emergency response system.

“We drill for this every quarter and it was gratifying to see how well it worked,” he said.

The mass casualty incident was cancelled about 7:45 a.m.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune