WARNING: Graphic image at bottom of story
WICKER PARK — A 22-year-old woman who was hit in her head by debris from a crumbling Wicker Park building this month said the incident derailed her life, causing her to leave Chicago weeks before her college graduation.
Annie Shea Wheeler was walking home the evening of April 6 when she was hit by falling pieces of a vacant building’s facade at 1227 N. Milwaukee Ave. near the Polish Triangle. She was taken to Stroger Hospital in critical condition, police said.
Wheeler, who studies fine art and graphic design at Columbia College, was just weeks from graduation when the life-altering injury derailed her plans, she said Monday at a virtual press conference. Her long path to recovery delayed her plans to work in the Chicago arts scene, where she hopes to become a printmaker.
“This has defeated me. It’s defeated my goals and it’s defeated my whole timeline for the next year,” she said. “I’m going to have to kind of retrain my body how to do some basic motor functions. I’ve even noticed I’m having some trouble writing and reading as of now, but I’m also still concussed … going forward it’s going to be very slow and tedious.”
Bruno Marasso, a partner at personal injury law firm Romanucci and Blandin, said Wheeler’s injuries include a skull fracture, a brain bleed and a concussion.
After two surgeries, Wheeler is being discharged from the hospital Monday, and planning to move back to Michigan, where her family lives, she said.
The facade collapse came less than three weeks after city officials ordered the property owner to make emergency repairs to the building at 1227 N. Milwaukee Ave., officials said.
On March 21, the Department of Buildings told the property owner to fix the crumbling building following an anonymous 311 tip, a city spokesperson said.
The city instructed the building’s owner to install scaffolding above the sidewalk, hire an engineer to assess the building’s facade, and to “immediately engage a licensed masonry contractor to make emergency repairs,” according to a Buildings Department statement.
By the day of the collapse, the property owner had put up a “heavy-duty canopy” but had not made any of the required repairs, the city said.
A court-appointed receiver stabilized the facade on April 7, a spokesperson said Monday. Additional scaffolding was erected against the building.
Marasso said Wheeler’s legal team is investigating negligence by both the property owner and Chicago Scaffolding Inc., which installed the scaffolding outside the building last month. The firm filed a complaint against them earlier this month. A Chicago Scaffolding employee declined to comment.
The 1227 N. Milwaukee Ave. building is owned by a company called Virgin Future Properties, LLC Series 5, according to county records. Deborah M. Peterson, who is listed as the company’s agent and manager on the state’s Secretary of State website, did not return a request for comment.
The building was formerly home to Value Pawn, but the storefront has sat vacant for several years.
Wheeler said she can’t remember most of what happened April 6. She was walking home from the Division Blue Line stop, and all of a sudden found herself on the ground.
“And the next thing I remember is opening my eyes on the ground and seeing my roommate who happened to be across the street, who was so amazingly helpful and was there for me in that moment,” she said. “I want to reiterate that it was my everyday walk home, it was almost automatic, but a lot of it’s kind of blacked out.”
Wheeler said beyond her physical injuries, the incident has left a mental toll, too.
“I’m being forced to leave my partner and being forced to leave my best living situation I’ve ever known, and a community and a family here that supports me, especially as a queer person and I’m not able to finish school,” she said.
“Emotionally, I haven’t even been able to even unpack some of it because it’s just so much.”
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