NewsPinellas County


Body recovered following stairwell collapse in Clearwater parking garage

Clearwater stairwell collapse
Posted at 1:37 PM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-24 15:41:05-05

CLEARWATER, Fla. — One person is dead following a stairwell collapse in a parking garage in Clearwater on Monday, Clearwater Fire Rescue said. The victim's body was recovered early Wednesday morning after crews worked throughout the night.

Officials said the collapse happened around 12:30 p.m. when workers were conducting some stairwell repairs at a parking garage on Enterprise Road. One worker was able to get away, however, officials said another worker was trapped.

In a press conference Tuesday, authorities said they "don't believe the person survived."

The unstable stairwell delayed efforts to recover the 23-year-old victim's body as crews waited for special equipment. His body was recovered Wednesday morning shortly before 6:30 a.m. after crews worked all night long.

The victim was identified on Wednesday as Mitchel Klock from Riverview.

Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter said Klock was married earlier this year and owned M. Klock Welding Services, LLC. Slaughter said the LLC was opened in 2019.

"[He was a] good hardworking person who was doing a dangerous job," Slaughter said of Klock. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

Slaughter said Klock's family asked for privacy during this difficult time.

"We are at a point now where we're collecting information related to the death of Mitchel and trying to make sure that there, if there is any culpability and that evidence is presented to us during our investigation that we will then, of course, handle it appropriately and follow through with any type of system of accountability that needs to occur," Slaughter said.

Slaughter said the investigation is in its early stages and said detectives will be gathering information for some time. He said at this time, it's not a criminal investigation.

He later said the case is "very complicated" and it will take a lot of time to gather all of the information.

Slaughter said detectives are working with an independent contractor to provide impartial information with regard to structural engineering, construction, repair processes and things like that.

The cause of the collapse is still unknown, but Clearwater Fire and Rescue Division Chief, John Klinefelter said the workers were in the stairwell following a recent inspection.

"[The building] just recently changed ownership, which is why the inspection was done, which is why the work is being done," he said.

Slaughter provided an inspection report of the parking garage, which features the following timeline:

  • First complaint was made on July 1 for "unsafe conditions"
  • Initial inspection on July 15 revealed "areas of concern"
  • The city prepared an unsafe structure report that was shared with property management on July 19
  • The city followed up on August 30, October 12, and November 24. Those follow-ups showed that the "areas of concern" had not yet been addressed. But it shows that as of November 24, both the city and the property's management were waiting on an engineer's report for the needed work.

ABC Action News spoke with an architectural expert, Jonathan Moore, the president of Invision Advisors.

Moore says the collapse, is "heartbreaking." He adds that the most striking takeaway from the inspection report was that the stairwell wasn't fixed yet.

"It just seems that that complaint sat there for five months."

The next concern for Moore? There is no public record of a permit for the work that was being done in the stairwell. It's still also not clear if the city was ever provided with an engineer's report, which would detail how the work should have been done.

Moore says that information will be key to helping investigators figure out what happened.

"We don't know if it was the degradation of the stair that caused the collapse or the workers working on the stair that caused the collapse," he said.

Slaughter said Wednesday, the property management was in contact with the city and said, "At this point, it doesn't seem like they were just ignoring our conversations. It was moving relatively well."

Crews used heavy equipment to slowly and carefully clear "football-sized" chunks of rubble out of the way to reach Klock.

"Our goal here is to prevent any secondary collapses. The stairway is still very unstable," said Klinefelter.

The city's Planning and Development Department is researching the permitting and construction history of the parking garage. It is hoped those records will be made available soon.

As of now, Clearwater Police says they can't determine if any crime was committed in this case, but they say the entire parking garage will be closed for the time being.

Late Wednesday afternoon, ABC Action News did reach out to the company that owns that garage, for comment, but they were not able to get back to us in time for broadcast.

The family of Klock has created a GoFundMe to help pay for burial expenses. If anyone would like to donate, click here.