SURFSIDE (CBSMiami) – Who was the voice in the rubble?
This question was one of the harrowing mysteries of the Surfside building collapse.
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A Miami Dade Fire Rescue review found it was Theresa Velasquez, a 36-year-old entertainment industry executive from Los Angeles who was visiting her parents at Champlain Towers South on the night of the collapse, a memo said. obtained by CBS Miami.
Her parents – Julio, 67, and Angela, 60 – also died.
Theresa Velasquez’s brother, David, said he accepted the findings of the firefighters’ investigation. “There’s no way to know 100%,” he told CBS Miami, “but it seems like the logical conclusion.”
According to the 11-page memo, written by Miami Dade Deputy Fire Chief Ray Jadallah, Velasquez survived the initial collapse, but rescue crews were unable to reach her before she died.
In the memo dated April 25 and sent to Fire Chief Alan Cominsky, Jadallah notes that his findings were based on more than two months of interviews with the crews that worked to extricate Velasquez.
The report attempts to refute the findings of a USA Today investigation released in December that identified the voice in the rubble as 14-year-old Valeria Barth. The report also refutes claims that the actions of rescue teams caused Valeria’s death when firefighters accidentally set fire to the room where the teenager was trapped.
From the start of the collapse, it was wondered if anyone had been heard alive in the rubble. Jadallah and others initially denied that a voice was heard. The department later acknowledged that there was a voice in the early hours behind a thick concrete slab that had crashed into the underground parking lot.
Those who worked in the underground garage all agreed that the voice was female.
Some firefighters believed the voice said she was in Unit 204. This was the unit where Valeria was staying with her parents, Luis Fernando Barth and Catalina Gomez. They had traveled together to Miami from Colombia a month before the collapse.
Other firefighters said the voice said she was in Unit 304, which is owned by Theresa Velasquez’s parents.
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The report notes, “…it was difficult to hear the woman.”
“A rescue worker said when they asked the victim if she was with someone else, the female voice replied that she was visiting her parents (paraphrased),” the report said. “This statement correlates with accounts from Theresa Velasquez’s family that Ms. Velasquez was visiting her parents from California and staying with them in apartment No. 304. Unlike Ms. Barth, who was accompanied by her parents who came of Colombia and occupied apartment n°204.
“According to rescuers, the voice was that of a grown woman whose English sounded like an English speaker with native sentence syntax and excellent vocabulary,” the report continued. “All the rescuers unanimously said…[the voice] didn’t have an accent.
The report notes that Valeria’s uncle said the teenager’s primary language was Spanish “but she can speak English” and has a distinct Spanish accent.
According to the report, Valeria’s uncle, Jadallah and others, he did not believe the voice was his niece.
CBS Miami could not reach Valeria’s uncle or grandmother.
The body of Theresa Velasquez was dug up on July 8. He was about 15 feet from the support poles they had erected as they attempted to extract the trapped woman. However, the report does not say if Valeria’s body was also found in this area.
The report spends a lot of time trying to refute accusations that the department didn’t have the equipment to rescue the trapped woman. And disputes the allegation that firefighters accidentally started the underground fires which halted rescue efforts for the trapped woman for several hours. When they returned, they could no longer hear the woman’s voice.
The report documents the extremely dangerous conditions in which the rescue teams worked to try to save the woman – including high carbon monoxide readings, water up to her hips polluted with hazardous materials, electric shocks and the constant risk of further collapse.
Theresa Velasquez’s brother, David, said Jadallah and other officials spoke to him often in the months following the collapse.
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“I trust the content of this report and the people who made this decision,” he told CBS Miami.