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Tampa apartments where toddler fell cited for code violations

TAMPA — Less than 24 hours after a little girl slipped through balcony rails and fell onto a car below, code enforcement officials declared that every building in the Tampa apartment complex has guardrails set too far apart.

They cited the owner of Fredericksburg Apartments with code violations. He has 15 days to start making improvements.

That's what resident Bermary Rivera wants. "They need to fix it real fast," Rivera, 30, said. "Because another accident could happen."

Rivera lives next door to Autumn Butler, the 18-month-old girl who fell. Rivera's own girls, ages 4 and 7, were playing with Autumn on Monday afternoon before the incident.

Rivera said she no longer will allow her girls to play outside. "I want to move to the first floor," she said.

Tuesday morning, two code enforcement inspectors found gaps up to 8 inches wide in some of the guardrails. Sometimes, a baluster was entirely missing.

When the apartments were built in the late '60s and early '70s, building code stated that guardrails could not be more than 6 inches apart. Anything replaced after 2004 can't exceed 4 inches.

Code enforcement supervisor Jim Karr said he found that some of the rails — mostly the ones made of steel — meet code requirements. But the aluminum railings had gaps averaging 6.5 to 7 inches — too large, even by the 1970s standards.

"They have some code violations they have to address," he said.

The balcony where Autumn fell still had the original concrete guardrails, which have gaps between 3.5 to 6 inches, within code requirements.

But Rivera pointed to the rails that Autumn squeezed through. The gap was slightly larger than the rest. She said she measured it yesterday and found it was 6.5 inches at the top.

"This is dangerous," she said. "It should not be like this."

Fredericksburg Apartments owner Robert D'Andrea could not be reached Tuesday for comment. His son said he is out of town.

On Monday, officials said Autumn was in good condition, with scratches on her injured face. She returned home Tuesday afternoon.

Rivera said it's a miracle the toddler survived, probably aided by the fact that Rivera's car was parked under the balcony.

She pointed to a dent in her car's trunk, where Autumn fell before landing on the pavement.

"I know that saved her life," she said.

In an apartment below, Guy Crain, 26, said he's glad he doesn't live upstairs. He has a son who just turned 1, and a 2-year-old daughter.

He was outside Monday, working on his green Dodge Intrepid, when he saw Autumn fall. He was horrified and ran and picked her off the ground. She was crying — but he was glad to see she was breathing.

He ran her upstairs, where her grandmother, also crying, met him.

"I was saying 'It's okay. It's okay, baby,' " Crain said. "I'm glad she's all right. That's all I care about."

Times staff writer Luis Perez and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Tampa apartments where toddler fell cited for code violations 04/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 12:14am]
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