Originally created 03/31/04

Prom goes on despite injuries



TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. - Nine people were hospitalized during the weekend when the third-story balcony on which they were standing collapsed while the group was taking prom pictures.

Among the 18 people who fell were Ashley Feemster, who went on to be crowned prom queen later Friday night, and her mother, Barbara, who spent the next two days in a local hospital with minor injuries.

Ashley remembers watching her mother's face as the balcony gave way.

She also remembers watching her date to the prom, Chuck Collison, as he hit the second-floor balcony below and other falling teenagers landed on his legs.

The group was celebrating Savannah Christian Preparatory School's prom by having a group photo taken before heading to the dance.

As Ms. Feemster was treated for bruises to her feet and back, she insisted her daughter and friends go to their senior prom.

The group grabbed a quick dinner at McDonald's and made the prom just in time for the senior walk at 11 p.m.

"Chuck had one crutch and was leaning on me with the other arm and we just kind of hobbled out there for the senior walk," Ashley said.

Then someone nudged Ashley, telling her she had been chosen prom queen during a vote two days earlier.

"I heard somebody say 'Ashley! Ashley! Go up there!' And I was like, what?" she said. "It was very unexpected."

City investigators said there were not enough supports holding the balcony to the three-story rental building.

"I'm not going to get into what caused it to fail," City Marshall Chuck Bargeron said. "Asking 'why' would be getting into speculation right now."

The deck was constructed in 1998 according to building code specifications set at the time, he said.

More stringent codes were set in 2000.

"The deck wasn't that old. It was built fine, but more attachments (holding the balcony to the home) would have been better," Mr. Bargeron said.

The house is now under quarantine by the city.

Property manager Keith Gay of Tybee Beach Rental Properties rented the house to the Feemsters.

A rental agreement sets limits on the number of people that can be in the house, Mr. Gay said, though he declined to give that number.

"It's only supposed to be used for families, not for event uses and things like that," Mr. Gay said.

"But we have no control how (renters) use the property and how many people are to be housed there."