CLEARWATER — Police on Wednesday identified the 23-year-old worker who was killed when a stairwell in a parking garage partially collapsed.
Mitchel Thomas Klock, a Brandon resident and owner of M Klock Welding, was killed on Monday when the stairwell collapsed on him while he was making repairs, Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said at a news conference at the scene.
Klock’s body was recovered about 6:30 a.m. after crews working through the night demolished the stairwell of the garage on a commercial property at 26750 U.S. 19. Crews worked their way from the top of the structure down to where Klock’s body was trapped. As Slaughter spoke to reporters, a pile of rubble about two stories high sat where the stairwell once stood.
Slaughter said his department is conducting a death investigation into the incident to determine if there is any culpability in Klock’s death.
“This case will be very intent on kind of looking at the documentation that’s available and what kind of information was learned about the structure up to the point of the tragedy,” Slaughter said. “And then going from there to kind of evaluate how the whole thing was possible.”
The Tampa Bay Times reported Tuesday that city records revealed that repairs on the stairwell began before an application for the work was submitted and months after the city of Clearwater determined the garage was potentially unsafe, requiring inspection by a structural engineer.
The building’s owner, Plymouth Plaza LLC, did not submit the required engineering report before the repairs began, records show.
The city received a complaint and inspected the parking garage in early July, according to a case summary report by an inspector with the Clearwater Planning and Development Department. An inspector visited and wrote that parts of the building had “signs of deterioration” and further inspection by a structural engineer was needed, the report states.
City officials in mid-July sent a notice of violation to the building’s owners, requesting that they submit an engineering safety report. A representative for the owner told the inspector in August that they had contracted a structural engineer and were waiting for the engineer’s schedule to open up for an inspection. The city checked in with the owners twice more, on Oct. 12 and Nov. 24, but the engineer still had not completed the inspection needed so a contractor could begin, according to the case summary report.
The next development in the city’s report is news of a fatality after the stairwell collapsed.
“I was also told that a welding company had begun repairs, although we have not received the engineers report yet and a permit has not been applied for,” the inspector wrote in the report.
A spokesperson for Plymouth Plaza released a statement to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday that offered condolences to the worker’s family and said the company was cooperating with the investigation. The spokesperson did not respond to additional questions from the Times.
Slaughter said the property manager was communicating with the city of Clearwater’s inspection staff and that it seemed there was no intent to ignore the issue with the building.
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Officials have not said what caused the stairwell to collapse and said they are unclear what sort of work Klock was doing when the collapse happened. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration is also investigating.
Slaughter said his detectives have conducted a few preliminary interviews but he anticipates the case will take some time.
Police are using the private contractor that aided in the recovery of Klock’s body as a source for impartial information about structural engineering and the repair processes.
Fire Rescue Division Chief John Klinefelter, who also spoke during the press conference, described the harrowing effort to recover Klock’s body. A large excavator was transported from the central Florida to the Clearwater site Tuesday, where the machine worked from the top down, removing football sized chunks of concrete from the building.
When crews were close to Klock, all equipment was pulled back and the Pinellas County Technical Rescue team began to work by hand. Around 5 a.m., the team was ready to remove the last section of the stairwell still on top of Klock.
The team, along with some heavy equipment, removed the last piece of concrete at around 6:30 a.m. and Klock’s body was removed from the rubble.
Authorities said the fate of the building, which is next to Tampa Bay Water’s headquarters and leased by several companies for parking, is unclear. No one is currently allowed inside and all employee cars have been removed. Power to the garage and another building was cut while crews worked on recovering Klock’s body. Crews were still working Wednesday to get power back to the building.
Slaughter said Klock started his welding company in 2019. The chief described him as a hardworking person doing a dangerous job who was trying to provide for his family.
“This has obviously put a strain on them emotionally and even financially,” Slaughter said.
Slaughter said Klock should not be seen in a negative light despite the apparent lack of a permit for the job.
“A true American,” Slaughter said.
This is a developing story. Check tampabay.com for updates.