The investigation into a deadly Sioux Falls building collapse earlier this month is raising questions about whether a contractor on the site had followed city requirements.
When most of the building's brick structure collapsed on Dec. 2 — killing one person and trapping another and several dogs under the rubble for hours — questions about the construction company involved surfaced immediately.
Builder Hultgren Construction had a permit that limited the scope of renovation work, said Ron Bell, the city of Sioux Falls' chief building official.
"That allowed the contractor to commence cosmetic work," said Bell. "Removing non-bearing partitions, floor coverings, ceiling tiles, and bar area to prep the area for the construction that was anticipated."
The former bar and grill in the city's downtown was being converted into a drug store.
A photo posted on the construction company's Facebook page a few days before the collapse fueled doubts — it showed Hultgren workers in the process of removing a more than 3-foot-thick interior wall.
The company took down the photo almost immediately after the building fell.
Bell said the company's limited permit did not allow removal of the wall.
"To take out that type of bearing location, and the type of shoring that was necessary to support that would have required a submittal from a structural engineer, which we hadn't received," Bell said.
A federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation of the collapse is expected to reveal what role the wall removal played in the building's failure. It could take up to six months.
Hultgren Construction has said very little about the collapse, and declined an interview request. The company issued a statement saying it would "accept responsibility" if the OSHA investigation finds the company's work caused the building to fall.
Ethan McMahon, a 24-year-old Hultgren employee, was killed in the collapse.
He was a father of two sons and he served four years in the Marines, including a stint in Afghanistan.
A second person, Emily Fodness, was trapped under the rubble for several hours. She and her parents lived in an upper floor apartment.
Fodness woke that morning to a loud rumble and saw the floor collapsing. Pinned down under debris, she was able to find her cell phone, talk with her mother and direct rescuers to her location.
In an interview with Sioux Falls television station KELO, Fodness recalled the moment when an emergency worker reached into the rubble to grasp her hand.
"[He] told me, 'I got you, I'm not letting go, we're getting you out,'" Fodness said. "I just started crying, it was like 'thank you.' Like I couldn't stop saying 'thank you.' In a moment where you don't think you're going to live, and you're not expecting that; it was a good moment."
Holding her hand was firefighter Dustin Luebke, who had recently escaped a potentially fatal situation himself. He returned to work earlier this year after successful treatment of a second round of Hodgkins lymphoma.
Luebke said his cancer fight helped motivate him while rescuing Fodness.
"After going through what I went through, I value life a little bit more," Luebke said. "My kids are, and my wife, and God — that's probably the most important things in my life. And that's somebody else's kid in there, daughter in there. So that's pretty important to me and it's pretty important to somebody else."
Luebke's cancer is in remission. Fodness is undergoing physical therapy for leg and hip injuries.