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Sign Falls, Kills Man

(March 2017) posted on Mon Mar 06, 2017

Misreported information corrected in autopsy


By Darek Johnson

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On January 23, a massive storm that spawned 60 mph winds ravaged the East Coast and caused major damage and injury in several cities. One tragic resulting report was the death of a 60-year-old man who Philadelphia’s Channel 10 (NBC) reported was killed by a falling sign: “A man was struck and killed by a sign that was blown off a wall by the wind Monday afternoon in the Hunting Park section of Philadelphia, according to police.” However, my next-day conversation with the City of Philadelphia’s Karen Guss, the director of communication for licensing and inspections, said the medical examiner reported that even though the sign had dislodged and fallen on the poor soul, their autopsy revealed that a heart attack had killed him, not the sign.

Still, the wind blew the wall-mounted cabinet sign down. I enlarged and examined the news photos to see excessive mildew and mold on the sign back, which caused me to believe it was installed some time ago. In my opinion, installation component fatigue aggravated by the strong winds led to the failure.



Philadelphia news agencies also reported that parts of a Hahnemann University Hospital “Independence Starts Here” mural had broken loose and fallen in the windstorm and damaged cars in the parking lot below. As the accompanying photo shows, the painted-fabric mural, installed in 5 x 5-ft. sections, covered the exterior walls of three building façades. Guss said the city’s inspectors had examined the mounting failure and determined the building’s exterior insulation and finish systems’ (EIFS) cladding had separated from the structural walls and carried part of the mural earthward.

The Building Science Corp. (West-ford, MA) says EIFS is a “general class of non-load bearing building cladding systems that provides exterior walls with an insulated, water-resistant, finished surface in an integrated composite material system.” I must add that different types and brands exist. The face-sealed types, popular in ’80s construction, are least desirable for most applications, because they absorb moisture which loosens the binding. The newer, drained, water-resistant EIFSs (that prevent water build up on the second surface) are preferred.


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