Annie Shea Wheeler, a student at Columbia College, does not recall being crushed by a falling facade in Wicker Park; “It’s both frightening and comforting”

CHIAGO (CBS) — Nearly two weeks after pieces of limestone fell on her, fracturing her skull, as she returned home to Wicker Park, Columbia College student Annie Shea Wheeler is still suffering from symptoms of a concussion and doesn’t remember when she almost died.

“It’s both scary and heartwarming, because I don’t want to remember it,” Wheeler said from his hospital room on Monday afternoon.

Wheeler, 22, is expected to be released from Cook County Stroger Hospital on Monday after at least two surgeries. Her lawyer, Bruno Marasso, said she suffered a fractured skull and bleeding brains, which required life-saving surgery after part of the facade fell on her from a building outside northeast corner of Ashland and Milwaukee Avenues April 6.

Annie Shea Wheeler, 22, suffered a fractured skull and traumatic brain injury when a piece of the facade of a building in Wicker Park fell on her on April 6, 2022.


Marasso said Wheeler suffered a traumatic brain injury and required additional surgery for leaking cerebrospinal fluid after his initial surgery. He expects her to need further surgery as she pursues a recovery that he says will take years.

Wheeler still has a bloodshot eye and multiple surgical staples in his skull after his surgery.

She said she was now facing a “slow and tedious” recovery and would face the prospect of long-term sensory issues and mental health issues, including severe depression and developmental issues.

“It’s going to be intense,” she said.

Marasso, a partner at law firm Romanucci & Blandin, said he filed a lawsuit against the owners of the building and the company that installed the scaffolding around the building, claiming more than $50,000 from damages to pay for Wheeler’s medical bills, as well as his pain and suffering and the loss of his future wages due to his injuries.

“She’s a tough young woman, and she’s going to do her best to overcome this,” Marasso said. “It’s going to be something that takes Annie into her mid to late twenties, and obviously she’s up to the task.”

“She’s been through hell,” Romanucci & Blandin spokeswoman Jennifer McGuffin said.

Columbia College student Annie Shea Wheeler is seen before she was seriously injured when limestone fell from a building in Wicker Park.

Photo provided to CBS

Wheeler called the past two weeks “completely uprooted, completely vulnerable, almost violent.”

“I’m graduating from college in a few weeks, and I feel like my whole life just took a somersault, and I had a lot going for me, and I still do, but it is extremely unfortunate,” she said.

Wheeler said she won’t be able to complete her education and will instead have to return home to Michigan to continue her recovery, “and that’s not ideal.”

“I’m forced to leave my partner and forced to leave the best living situation I’ve ever had and a community and family here that supports me, especially as a queer person,” he said. she declared.

Wheeler said all she remembers of the incident is that she was walking home on April 6, returning from the Blue Line, using the same crosswalk she always uses, and the next thing she remembers is opening her eyes on the floor, and seeing her roommate across the street.

“I remember waking up in the hospital, I remember that, and it’s pretty clear. It’s pretty clear to me,” she said, adding that the rest of the incident remained vague.

Marasso said before the limestone chunks fell on Wheeler on April 6, chunks of stone had been falling from the building for weeks, some of them as big as couch cushions.

As late as March 21, the city had asked the building’s owner to make necessary repairs to the crumbling facade, but none of those repairs had been made, according to Marasso.

“What happened to Annie Wheeler is unthinkable, but more importantly, it was completely preventable,” Marasso said. “Our investigation into his life-threatening injuries will be very thorough and all those responsible will be held accountable.”

A Facebook video from the day of the incident shows good Samaritans rushing to help Wheeler moments after he fell to the ground. She was surrounded by debris that had fallen from the building.

The marquee light sign for Value Pawn, the now-closed pawn shop that once stood in the building, also fell and remained hanging from the scaffolding canopy in front.

A day after the facade fell on Wheeler, crews removed the slabs of the fallen facade from the ground and placed it in a nearby dumpster. Parts of the facade that could be safely removed were also dismantled.

The scaffolding company also extended the awning border on the south side of the building, which was not in place on Wednesday.

That same day, city attorneys filed an emergency motion in Cook County Court, seeking the immediate appointment of a receiver to make necessary repairs to the facade, and it was granted.

Ross Luisi, who owns a business next to the building, said about three weeks before the facade fell on Wheeler, debris fell from the same building.

“It hasn’t been cleaned for a week and a half,” Luisi said. “People were walking right over it. – all in that area – large three-four-hundred-pound slab chunks of the facade.”

The Department of Buildings confirmed, at around the same time on March 21, they contacted an agent of the owner of the vacant building after an anonymous call to 311. The person was told:

• Immediately install a sturdy awning on the public road around the facade of the buildings.

• Have a licensed structural engineer assess the building facade.

• Have a licensed masonry contractor perform emergency repairs.

During the installation of the robust canopy, the owner did not carry out any repairs. The building owner did not respond to requests for comment regarding these necessary repairs.


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