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Davenport family remembers Branden Colvin Sr., eyes road to accountability

A memorial of candles burn remembering Branden Colvin, Sr., one of the three people who died in the Davenport apartment building collapse. The candles sit at the foot barrier fence blocking the line of sight to the western side of the building.
Zachary Oren Smith/IPR News
A memorial of candles burn remembering Branden Colvin, Sr., one of the three people who died in the Davenport apartment building collapse. The candles sit at the foot barrier fence blocking the line of sight to the western side of the building.

Since the collapse of The Davenport apartment building, it has become increasingly evident how long both the owner and the city were aware of its risks. The remains of the dead were found this week. One family remembers their lost loved one and discusses accountability after the collapse.

It was a day of celebration. And every bit of it felt wrong.

The Class of 2023 at Rock Island High was receiving their diplomas. DeSirée Banks sat in the audience, waiting.

“I've been waiting for that moment — me and his dad — forever," she said.

Her son Branden Colvin Jr. stepped up to the stage in a scarlet graduate robe and cap. As Branden Jr. walked, Banks watched. His posture was different. His demeanor was distant. She said, "as if going through the motions."

The reason was right beside her: an empty seat. On it, a shirt, some buttons — keepsakes set aside for Branden Colvin Sr.

Live Blog: Stay on top of the newest information from the Davenport collapse.

A week prior, the western wall of the six-story apartment building in Davenport gave way. Colvin rented a unit on its fifth floor. According to his cousin Mike Collier, the last he or anyone heard from him was the day before Memorial Day. A mutual friend knocked on Colvin Sr.’s door.

"He needed to get some rest and then he’d be able to come to the family gathering," Collier said. "Later is when the building collapsed.”

The 79-unit building was only partially inhabited, though an estimated 100 households — including some from nearby buildings — have been displaced as a result of its failure. One person was severely injured.

Last Monday, the city confirmed it found the remains of Branden Colvin Sr., Ryan Hitchcock and Daniel Prien. Colvin’s remains were discovered at noon the day his son walked the graduation stage.

“No answer is gonna be able to fix this," Banks said. "Nothing's gonna be able to fix this. Nothing. Nothing at all."

There is no turning back the clock on the collapse. But the slow work of holding the responsible accountable has begun.

Philadelphia-based structural collapse attorney Jeffery Goodman is representing one of the former residents in civil court.

“There was warning after warning that this building was in a state of collapse for months And that a catastrophic event like this was inevitable," Goodman said. "And yet time and time again, when given the opportunities to evacuate the building or warn the tenants, nobody bothered to put safety first.”

Goodman was part of the litigation team in Florida that negotiated a $1.2 billion settlement following the collapse of a 12-story building in 2021.

Several lawsuits have been filed in Scott County District Court. They accuse building owner Andrew Wold of negligence. The lawsuits also name his LLCs, the engineer who signed off on the building and the contractors who worked on it. The City of Davenport and even the building's prior owners are also named.

Goodman says by filing a civil lawsuit the public can get answers. They’ll be able to subpoena documents, take depositions and get access to evidence.

IPR News Investigates: Davenport inspection records show complaints, structural issues at collapsed apartment building

While details remain fuzzy, Mayor Mike Matson says an investigation will occur.

"Documentation, videos, photos, logs from respected folks that are keeping everything will be turned over to an investigative team," he said at a news conference on May 30.

Outside civil court, Scott County Attorney Kelly Cunningham has not filed any criminal charges related to the incident. Potentially, the professional engineer David Valliere of Select Structural Engineering could face disciplinary action from the Iowa Professional Licensing Bureau.

Looking at the rubble, the thought of being made whole after losing Branden Colvin Sr. still feels far off for Banks. Watching her son receive his diploma, it reminds her of what it took for her to graduate. It was Colivn Sr. who watched her oldest while she studied. Right now, she’s sitting with the loss of the man who helped her and her son get across that stage.

“I’m literally leaving knowing he should have been there more than anybody because he helped me graduate. He helped me get to the point where I needed to be. And now here I am helping my son. It’s almost like me showed me how to do this," Banks said. "So hell yeah I put that seat down. Put my big ole leg on the side of the seat to make sure Branden was sitting there too.”

Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa