'We're tired of being patient': 10 months after Hard Rock collapse, bodies inside to be removed

Courtesy Frank WimberlyBY: ELLA TORRES, ABC NEWS

(NEW ORLEANS) — Frank Wimberly began grieving for his brother, Quinnyon, last fall after learning that he was one of three construction workers killed in the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans.

Yet 10 months later, Wimberly said the pain still feels fresh because his brother’s body hadn’t been recovered.

Authorities have been working to remove the 36-year-old’s body and that of a second victim, 63-year-old Jose Ponce Arreola, since the hotel crumbled on Oct. 12, 2019, but safety concerns and the instability of the building have remained an issue.

The third victim, Anthony Magrette, was removed.

“I think we have gone through the beginning stages of grief, shock and denial, but we have been stuck at the third stage of pain,” Wimberly told ABC News.

Quinnyon Wimberly’s body was set to be removed July 1, but the weeks dragged on and it still hadn’t been, Wimberly told ABC News.

On July 13, New Orleans council member-at-large Helena Moreno released a statement saying the bodies would “soon be removed from the wreckage.”

“This tragedy should never have happened, and it has taken far too long to be able to deliver dignity to these men who unfairly perished due to the terrible mistakes and misdeeds of others,” Moreno said.

The latest deadline for removal — and what the Wimberly family hopes is the last — is now Saturday.

When officials told the Wimberly family the removal would happen in the window of July 20 to July 24, Frank Wimberly bought a plane ticket from Atlanta, where he lives, to New Orleans.

Other family members also flew in, some from Cleveland.

By July 23, Wimberly said it was clear officials would not make the latest deadline.

Wimberly said his brother’s eldest son had been there for a month, but couldn’t stay any longer.

“He’s not even gonna be able to see his dad coming out of the building,” Wimberly said.

His own son was graduating from high school this year, and the graduation ceremony was planned for July 24, however Wimberly said his son chose to miss it because he would rather be there for his uncle.

“Now it’s like he missed his graduation for nothing,” Wimberly said.

Wimberly said that the toll of the delays has caused the family great stress. And in the time it’s taken for his brother’s body to be removed also caused physical damage to his remains. His brother’s legs were seen sticking out of the building after the collapse, and in mid-July, Wimberly says he was told the left leg had fallen off.

“It’s just a lot of things going on … my family and I were fed up,” Wimberly said.

A spokeswoman for New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell directed ABC News to 1031 Canal Development LLC, the property owner, for comment.

A spokesperson for 1031 Canal said that the main concern for the company has always been health and safety. The spokesperson also said that two tropical storms hindered the efforts and caused delays. However, the spokesman believes that a removal by the end of the day Saturday is plausible.

The New Orleans Fire Department, which Wimberly said was in contact with the family about the removal process, did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Workers on site had been attempting to reach the bodies by chipping away at the building from top to bottom. Wimberly’s body was expected to be removed first, with Arreola’s the week after.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited “willful” and “serious” violations of Heaslip Engineering, LLC., as the main reasons for the building’s collapse, according to documents filed by the federal agency.

The alleged violations include workers being exposed to falling materials and building collapse, a lack of a health and safety program, and design flaws that affected the structural integrity of the building, according to OSHA. Heaslip Engineering, LLC., was fined $154,214.

James Heaslip, founder of the company, which was the principal engineer on the Hard Rock project, did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

An attorney for the company told NOLA.com that OSHA’s conclusions were “unwarranted” and cited its “impeccable work.”

“We believe OSHA’s conclusions are unwarranted, not supported by the facts and beyond the jurisdiction of OSHA’s statutory authority,” Kelly Theard, an attorney at DeutschKerrigan LLC, told NOLA.com. “Heaslip unequivocally denies any ‘willful’ or ‘serious’ wrongdoing, and will vigorously contest all of the citations through the procedures required by OSHA.”

None of the companies cited in OSHA’s report on the collapse responded to multiple requests for comment from ABC News. It’s unclear whether they challenged the citations or paid their stated penalties. OSHA did not immediately respond to additional requests for comment on Friday.

Frank Wimberly told ABC News he’s hopeful to finally see his brother be removed from the building.

As he and the family prepare for what should be the culmination of their months-long ordeal, rife with grief and anticipation, Frank Wimberly said the feeling is bittersweet.

The family held a memorial service back in November, but it’s clear Quinnyon Wimberly’s loved ones are looking forward to having some closure.

“We’re tired of being patient,” Frank Wimberly said.

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