Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Seminole man killed in wall collapse was warned about improper foundation, Pinellas inspectors say

The wall that came crashing down on Arben Berberi last Friday, killing the Seminole father of two, never should have been built, county officials said Monday.

Less than one week before Berberi's death, a Pinellas County inspector visited the vacant house at 8080 Robin Road, where Berberi and his brother-in-law were building an addition. The two bought the house together in April and planned for Berberi to live there once it was complete.

But when inspector Gary Beer surveyed the construction on Nov. 19, he told the men they would have to make some changes. The structure's concrete footing — the below-ground foundation that the walls rest on — was not being built according to plan.

"I thought it might be dangerous," said Genci Shkullaku, Berberi's brother-in-law. But the architect the men consulted assured them it was stable, he said.

Four days later, when the wall fell on Berberi, Shkullaku grabbed a 4-by-4 and tried to pry the concrete wall off of his brother-in-law, he said. He and his father, Shahin Shkullaku, yelled for help and neighbors came running, but to no avail. Berberi, 52, died almost instantly.

"It was just a one-second thing," Genci Shkullaku said Monday, hours after the family buried Berberi at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Pinellas Park. "The whole thing came down like a mountain, just boom, that's it."

The project had begun inauspiciously.

Berberi and Shkullaku started construction without a permit. Tipped off by an anonymous complaint in June, inspectors with the county's Building and Development Review Services Department ordered them to apply for one.

By early October, they had handed in their designs and obtained the county's approval. On Oct. 23, they submitted a notice of commencement. The architect's plans called for a concrete foot that was to be dug out and poured incrementally, so as not to destabilize the wall that was already built.

"From the pictures I saw, they didn't do that," said Glenn Wardell, a division manager for the Building and Development Review Services Department.

"I would say that's probably a leading cause as to why the wall fell down. They took all the support out for the wall."

Shkullaku said he and Beberi had worked on other construction projects together without incident. But in 2007, the county issued Shkullaku a stop work order for beginning construction without a permit. According to public records, Berberi owned four single-family homes in Seminole.

Both men emigrated from Albania, moving to Florida in search of a "better life," Shkullaku said. Berberi had a teenage son and daughter.

"He was a good man, you know," Shkullaku said. "Never said no to anything."

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

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