The mystery surrounding the ‘voice in the rubble’ of the Surfside condo collapse has finally been settled, almost a year after the Florida towers came crashing down, killing 98 people.
Rescue crews spoke to a female trapped in the collapsed building, trying to rescue her but ultimately failing.
In December it was reported that the victim was 14-year-old Valeria Barth, who was visiting the U.S. from Colombia with her parents, for a tennis tournament.
USA Today reported that rescuers did not have the equipment to reach her, and that she may have burned to death in a fire caused by their equipment.
Yet on Tuesday CBS Miami obtained an April 25 memo from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, which concluded that the teenager was not the ‘voice in the rubble’.
Instead, Raied Jadallah, Miami-Dade deputy fire chief, concluded that the voice belonged to Theresa Velasquez, a 36-year-old music executive from Los Angeles who was visiting her parents at the time of the collapse.
Theresa Velasquez, 36 (left), is now believed to be the ‘voice in the rubble’. Initial reports suggested it was tourist Valeria Barth, 14 (right)
Champlain Tower South in Surfside, Florida, is pictured on June 24, 2021 – immediately after the collapse
Angela and Julio Velasquez, the parents of Theresa Velasquez. All three died in the apartment collapse
Her parents, Julio Velasquez, 66, and his 60-year-old wife Angela Velasquez, lived in apartment 304 of the Champlain Towers South and also died in the tragedy.
Initial reports suggested that the voice said she was in unit 204 – which was where the teenager was staying. But other rescuers said the voice said 304, the Velasquez apartment.
The report stressed that ‘it was challenging hearing the woman.’
Raied Jadallah, Miami-Dade deputy fire chief, submitted the 11-page report on April 25
The person who was trapped said that they were visiting their parents, which tallied with the story of Theresa, a Live Nation executive.
‘One rescuer stated that when they asked the victim if she was with someone else, the female voice responded she was visiting her parents (paraphrased),’ the report states.
‘This statement correlates with the accounts from Theresa Velasquez’s family stating that Ms Velasquez was visiting her parents from California and was staying with them in apartment #304.
‘Unlike Ms Barth, who was accompanied by her parents visiting from Colombia and were occupying apartment #204.’
And the final clue was the accent: Valeria could speak some English, but had a strong accent. Theresa, who grew up in Florida, climbing the music-industry ladder from working as a Miami Beach DJ to her most recent role, did not have an accent.
‘According to rescuers, the voice was that of a grown woman whose English appeared to be that of an English speaker with native sentence syntax and excellent vocabulary,’ the report continues.
‘All the rescuers unanimously stated …[the voice] did not have an accent.’
The report showed, with arrows, where Velasquez’s body was found. Rescuers are pictured in the report carrying paratech struts, to support the remains of the building
The report also showed the perilous conditions for rescue workers, as they searched in what was the parking lot beneath the building
The 11-page report also documents the dangerous conditions that rescuers were exposed to while trying to rescue the person, with worrying levels of carbon monoxide, hip-deep water polluted with hazardous materials, the threat of electrical shocks, and the constant risk of further collapse.
Both the Velasquez family and the Barth family have accepted the conclusions, CBS reported.
Last week, relatives of those killed in the collapse – one of the deadliest structural building failures in American history – agreed a settlement of almost $1 billion, at the end of an accelerated judicial process designed to bring rapid closure to the families.
The $997 million payout was announced in a Miami court hearing on Wednesday, overseen by Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman.
Family members of the 98 people who died in the June 2021 horror sued the building’s insurers, developers of a neighboring apartment building, an engineering firm that warned of the tower’s structural issues, and other defendants.
The case was settled in unusually quick fashion, and was the final payout was significantly higher than predicted.
The initial pool of insurance money to settle both claims for victims who lost their homes and those who lost family members was $50 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The land on which the 12-story Champlain South tower sat has been sold for $120 million.
The Champlain Tower South in Surfside, Florida, collapsed on June 24, 2021
The tower collapse left 98 people dead, and is one of America’s worse ever structural failures
Rescuers are pictured on June 27 sifting through the rubble in the search for survivors
Hanzman said he wanted the insurance proceeds to go to the victims rather than be used in legal fees from protracted litigation.
‘It was as difficult a case as one gets,’ Judge Hanzman said during Wednesday’s hearing.
‘For results like this to happen a lot of things have to break your way.’
The 40-year-old building with some 136 apartments collapsed before dawn, when many residents were asleep.
The devastating scenes shocked the nation, and frightened millions of people living in aging condo buildings.
Structural engineers had issued minor warnings, but nothing of serious concern, and there were no mitigating factors like extreme weather to cause the collapse.
The Champlain Tower building is seen before the tragedy
The remaining apartments were demolished on July 4 (pictured) in a controlled explosion
Plaintiff attorneys had always sought the sum close to $1 billion, but attorneys thought the settlement overly ambitious.
Lawyers for the residents and their relatives said the units lost ranged in valued from about $400,000 to about $2.9 million, and the settlement needed to include compensation for trauma and potential punitive damages a jury might award.
Attorneys at the hearing didn’t disclose the breakdown of how much individual defendants were paying as part of the settlement.
The lawsuit also contended that work on the adjacent Eighty Seven Park tower damaged and destabilized a building in dire need of major structural repair.
Champlain Towers, the lawsuit claims, ‘was an older building in need of routine repairs and maintenance, but it was not until excavation and construction began on the luxury high-rise condominium project next door’ that the building became unsafe.
‘The collapse was entirely preventable,’ the lawsuit says.
In November, a lawyer for the developers of Eighty Seven Park denied being responsible.
‘The construction of Eighty Seven Park did not cause or contribute in any way to the tragic events of June 24, 2021, notwithstanding unfounded allegations to the contrary,’ said David B. Weinstein, a lawyer for the development team behind Eighty Seven Park, at the time.
They have not commented on the settlement.