3 companies cited, fined for violations after deadly SouthPark construction fire

On May 18, 2023, Demonte Sherrill and Reuben Holmes died in one of the largest fires in Charlotte’s history.
On May 18, 2023, Demonte Sherrill and Reuben Holmes died in one of the largest fires in Charlotte’s history.
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 4:05 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – Three contractors have been fined for workplace safety violations in relation to the deadly SouthPark construction fire in May.

The North Carolina Department of Labor released the findings of their investigation on Monday. It includes three maximum fines against the general contractor, Mill Creek Residential.

On May 18, 2023, Demonte Sherrill and Reuben Holmes died in one of the largest fires in Charlotte’s history.

The OSHA findings closely mirror what WBTV’s special report “Fire and Failure” uncovered while investigating the construction fire.

The Department of Labor determined that the building or structure exits were not arranged and maintained as to provide “free and unobstructed egress from all parts of the building or structure at all times when it was occupied,” according to its report.

The two workers were approximately 463 feet away from the only stairway exit and were not able to get out of the building, resulting in their deaths, according to the investigation.

The report also stated that Mill Creek Residential did not develop and implement an emergency response plan, nor was an alarm system established so that employees could be alerted for emergencies.

These issues were previously highlighted by a WBTV investigation in which experts analyzed how the response to the fire failed Sherrill and Holmes.

WBTV obtained a recording of an interview between a CMPD arson investigator and an employee in which the employee said they tried evacuating the building by running the one stairwell and yelling ‘Fire!’

As far as an evacuation plan goes, Joseph Cervantes says that’s not good enough. OSHA regulations require an alarm system, telephone system or siren to be installed at construction sites so employees and the fire department can be alerted to a fire.

“Yelling ‘fire, fire, fire’ is not an alarm system,” Cervantes said.

Sherrill and Holmes were on the south end of the building, a football field away from the only completed stair tower to the north. International fire code only requires one completed stairwell while the building is still under construction.

“It’s probably one of the reasons the two construction workers couldn’t get out,” O’Brocki said.

Within minutes of the first fire truck arriving, the building’s wood frame started to catch. The flames traveled up the elevator shaft and stair tower in the center of the building, between the two trapped workers and their only way out of the building.

Ray O’Brocki with the American Wood Council said the lack of preparation led to a chain reaction of problems. The result was Sherrill and Holmes trapped on the sixth floor.

“If you had a plan and trained on the plan, everybody would have known what to do,” he said.

Diversified Insulation was cited for not making readily available a safety data sheet in the work area for all hazardous chemicals being used.

According to the report, Kentucky Overhead Door Inc. DBA Baker Insulation did not compile an inventory list of all hazardous substances in the workplace. The company is also accused of not maintaining a safety data sheet.

Mill Creek Residential was fined almost $47,000 for alleged violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina, according to the Department of Labor. The maximum fine for any serious safety violation is $15,625.

Kentucky Overhear Door was fined approximately $6,250, while Diversified Insulation LLC was fined $3,125, a news release stated.

The fire started in the parking garage in a trailer used to make spray foam insulation. Notes from the CFD investigation file and pictures from the scene show the trailer was parked on the ramp between the first and second levels. The garage was made of concrete but there were five floors of wood frame above it.

“They didn’t have anybody there monitoring it,” O’Brocki said.

“If they would have had somebody attending to that spray foam trailer while it was running, with an extinguisher of sufficient size, this would have been a non-issue,” O’Brocki said.

“The penalties are in no way designed to make up for the loss of life,” a NCDOL spokesperson wrote in the email announcing the citations.

The money will be distributed to the public school system. The companies can still contest the fines and citations for a period of 15 days.

A spokesperson for Mill Creek Residential Trust responding to the NCDOL investigation wrote “Mill Creek Residential Trust has received the report from the North Carolina Department of Labor regarding the fire and is carefully reviewing its findings.”

“We take matters relating to safety very seriously and will cooperate fully with authorities. We are forever mindful of the grief caused by this tragedy and will continue to implement best practices to help avoid situations like this in the future.”