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Engineers and firm negligent in skywalk collapse

By
JACOB H. WOLF

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A state judge Friday ruled that two engineers and their St. Louis-based company were negligent in designing two skywalks at Kansas City's Hyatt Regency Hotel which collapsed in 1981, killing 114 people.

The elevated walkways collapsed the evening of July 17, 1981, during a crowded tea dance. Tons of steel and concrete fell up to four stories, crushing the 114 victims and injuring more than 200 other people.

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Named in the ruling, which also included a finding of professional misconduct, were Jack Gillum, president of GCE International Inc.; Daniel Duncan, chief engineer, and the company itself.

Judge James Deutsch, of the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission, issued the decision.

'It is the decision of this commission that cause for discipline exists to suspend or revoke the certificates of registration (of those charged) for gross negligence, misconduct and unprofessional conduct in the practice of engineering,' said Deutsch.

Charges of negligence were brought by the state Board of Architects, Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, and filed against Gillum, Duncan and the company in February 1984 by Attorney General John Ashcroft, now governor of Missouri. The board is a state licensing agency.

Shirley Nixon, executive secretary of the board, said the board will meet Monday in St. Louis to schedule a hearing on the findings against Gillum, Duncan and the company. The board can revoke or suspend the licenses of the two men and the company or issue a reprimand.

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The skywalks were on the fourth and second floors of the Hyatt's atrium lobby, suspended from the ceiling with steel rods. The National Bureau of Standards said the collapse was caused by a design change in the suspension system.

Deutsch's ruling was based on evidence and testimony presented last year during a 25-day hearing on the charges.

No felony indictments have been issued in connection with the tragedy. An investigation by the Jackson County prosecuting attorney's office ended in 1983 without producing evidence of criminal negligence.

More than $90 million in damages has been collected by victims.

Gillum and Duncan are still practicing engineering in St. Louis but their firm, GCE International Inc., no longer exists. Gillum said the firm merged with a Denver engineering firm, Ketcham, Konkel, Nichol, Barrett -- Austin.

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