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Water tower falls from roof of Lincoln Park building, 3 injured

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Updated: September 3, 2013 6:56AM

First they heard a blast — like a bomb went off.

Then they saw the “tidal wave” of water and debris rushing through a Lincoln Park alley filled with tenants loading moving vans behind a century-old building.

And finally, witnesses to Wednesday’s bizarre accident said they heard a distraught man screaming for help after a wooden water tower fell 10 stories from the top of the Brewster Apartments building in the 2800 block of Pine Grove.

The man and his girlfriend had been getting into a small Acura just below the water tower when it toppled, officials said. Its tank came to a rest beside the car’s crumpled remains. Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said the rear of the Acura was damaged either by the tank or the water inside it.

The man — who was reported to be in fair condition Wednesday evening — was swept away by the water, Langford said. The man’s girlfriend “got hit hard” by debris, he said. Witnesses called 911 and the woman was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in critical condition. Later Langford said officials were optimistic about her survival.

“They thought she was going to make it,” Langford said.

The man’s father, Marion Baginski, of Glenview, said he hadn’t talked to his son, who is a 29-year-old personal-injury lawyer, since the accident, but he said: “I think that both of them will be OK.”

Another woman who was injured Wednesday had stepped out of a neighboring building and was hit by debris, Langford said. A witness said the woman worked at a nursery there, and Langford said she was taken from the scene in fair-to-serious condition.

On Wednesday night, city building officials still couldn’t say why the tower fell. Langford said it fell intact and shattered on impact. A structural engineer said it was in safe condition in 2010.

Several shaken tenants who were scheduled to move out of area buildings Wednesday morning, the last day of the month, were left to tote their belongings past news crews in the alleyway and jockey their moving vans around police barricades.

Kathy Rawley said she was a neighbor of the woman who was critically injured. She called the accident “the scariest thing ever” and noted that she, like the injured woman, was in the process of moving Wednesday.

“It literally could have been us,” Rawley said.

Rawley said she was in the alley and saw the tower hit the ground. She said “it exploded.”

“Things were flying everywhere,” she said. “Water was going everywhere.”

Rawley said she heard the man who had been getting into the car screaming. She said she called 911 and ran over to help his girlfriend.

“She wasn’t moving at first,” Rawley said. “But thank God, she started moving her arms and legs.”

The water tower was 8 feet wide and 10 or 12 feet tall, Langford said. Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the city’s Department of Buildings, said the 91-unit, jasper-stone building it sat atop has undergone a number of inspections in 2013 and previous years.

While the 120-year-old building has been cited for building code violations, McCaffrey said the number and extent of violations don’t suggest it was neglected or poorly maintained.

It failed an inspection for various reasons in 2010, including issues with the water tank, according to the Department of Buildings. McCaffrey said an iron inspection revealed several building code violations, including some related to the water tank and exposed iron elements.

To come into compliance, he said, the building’s owners submitted a report from a licensed structural engineer that deemed the water tank and its support structure in safe condition.

The Brewster Apartments building, originally known as the Lincoln Park Palace, was built in 1893. Charlie Chaplin was a tenant, and it was used in the 1988 horror flick “Child’s Play.” Representatives of its management company couldn’t be reached.

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