“All I hope is that all the people who participated in this tragedy will be condemned. It is essential for the victims to rebuild themselves and learn to live with this tragedy”, confided to AFP Me Laurence Couvreux, lawyer for the civil parties.
At the end of four weeks of hearing in February and March, the public prosecutor of Angers had requested the heaviest sentence, four years in prison, two of which are firm, against the architect of the building, Frederic Rolland, 66 years old.
At the helm, the latter had claimed to have “intervened neither in the design, nor in the drawing, nor went to the site” during the construction of the building in 1997-1998, recognizing only “a part” responsibility in the drama.
At his side on the bench of the defendants, the boss of the construction company, Patrick Bonnel, 72, had meanwhile recognized a “serious” and “inexcusable” fault, saying he was “ashamed” of the work of his teams.
The prosecutor had requested against him three years of imprisonment, including one year suspended.
“The failures are multiple, the responsibilities accumulated. At the origin of this case there is the desire to save time and money, even if it means ignoring security. All the defendants must be convicted”, declared to AFP Me Marc Morin, counsel for the civil parties.
On the evening of the tragedy, there were 18 students, in their twenties, chatting on a balcony of the “Le Surcouf” residence, in the center of Angers, when it suddenly fell into a void.
In the rubble, the firefighters had discovered the bodies of Lou, 18, Antoine, 21, Benjamin, 23, and Baptiste, 25. Fourteen other victims were hospitalized.
Among the injured, a former tenant of the apartment had written in his inventory of fixtures, in February 2015: “cracked and very unstable balcony: danger???”. The balcony vibrated “when you moved a little too much on it”, he explained during the investigation.
The investigators had, however, dismissed any responsibility from the guests: the victims, according to all accounts, were partying calmly. And the balcony should have been able to support 35 people.
Heard during the trial, the experts had listed a whole series of defects in the construction of the balconies, going so far as to evoke a “form of DIY”.
The work had also been carried out without respecting the plans of the concrete engineer, designed for prefabricated balconies and not for balconies cast on site.
– “Multiple failures” –
During the trial, the works manager, Éric Morand, 53, explained that the method of construction of the balconies had been modified to meet the construction deadlines.
Three years in prison, including 18 months suspended, were requested against him.
For the site manager, Jean-Marcel Moreau, 63, and the representative of the Apave verification office, André de Douvan, 84, the public prosecutor had requested an 18-month suspended prison sentence.
During the trial, the victims and their families recounted at length this nightmare evening and the trauma that followed.
“There was a procession of stretchers with ambulances, we rushed to each stretcher to find out if it was our child,” said Antoine’s father, who died at 21.
“There was a horrible, jerky noise (…) I remained glued to the balcony, I lost consciousness then I looked at my body, my hands were bloody. There were screams, tears , it was like a scene of war”, remembered Hugo. “We were still children, it destroyed us.”