Engineers seek cause of skylight's collapse


October 12, 2007

Structural engineers continued surveying the damage and searching yesterday for clues to what caused the glass skylight to collapse a day earlier above the eight-story atrium of the Embassy Suites Hotel in Hunt Valley.

The hotel remains closed and company officials said it was unknown how soon it would reopen.

About 2 p.m. Wednesday, one of two glass roof sections above the hotel's atrium collapsed and fell eight stories, forcing guests to evacuate and a Baltimore County structural engineer to quickly declare the hotel unsafe for occupancy, officials said.

No one was injured during the collapse, county fire officials said.

Dawn Ray, a spokeswoman at the hotel chain's Memphis, Tenn., headquarters, said yesterday that she didn't know how long it would take the company's structural engineers to pinpoint the cause.

"The damage appears to be isolated to the atrium area," Ray said. "We're taking every precaution necessary."

A county engineer and the county's chief building inspector examined the site shortly after Wednesday's collapse but were unable to determine the cause.

Ray said that as soon as the cause is determined, the hotel's staff would be able to begin the cleanup.

"We've never had anything like this happen before," said Ray, who added that the hotel chain was established in 1984.

All of the company's 186 hotels in the United States, Canada and Latin America have skylights towering above wide atriums, she said.

The atrium runs through the center of the hotel, which is in the 200 block of International Circle near Hunt Valley Towne Centre. It features soaring glass ceilings and a landscaped footpath, according to the hotel's Web site. The area also includes benches and tables, where breakfast is served daily.

Shortly after the county temporarily condemned the building Wednesday and ordered a more thorough inspection by structural engineers, guests were allowed to return to retrieve their belongings but were told they couldn't stay at the hotel.

Of the hotel's 223 rooms, 130 were occupied at the time of the roof collapse, according to hotel officials. The hotel's staff was able to get all guests booked at area hotels.

Yesterday, hotel employees and staff from corporate headquarters called people with reservations in the coming days to assist them in finding alternate accommodations, Ray said.

Gina Davis

Bowleys Quarters

Overflow crowd postpones meeting

Concern about the handling of a development proposal drew more than 300 people to a Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association meeting last night, exceeding the hall's capacity and causing the meeting to be postponed.

The hall held more than 200 people, and about 100 more waited outside, hoping to vote on whether to impeach association president Mike Vivirito. Residents have differing opinions on how he handled a proposal by Milton Rehbein, owner of Galloway Creek Marina, to build a four-story waterfront condominium complex.

Under the proposal, an existing house and storage building, along with most of the boat slips, would be removed, leaving one slip for each of the 36 planned condo units. Development rights for the 12 acres on the east side of Burke Road would be given to a conservation group, according to Rehbein.

Last night, board members said they will notify residents of the date and location of the rescheduled meeting.

Laura Barnhardt


Lottery winner to step forward

People who said they represent a woman who purchased the winning Mega Millions ticket in last week's drawing have contacted state lottery officials and said that the winner plans to collect her prize soon, a lottery official said.

The callers said the winner wants to remain anonymous, said Maryland Lottery director Buddy Roogow.

The winner is a 79-year-old widowed grandmother who is a regular lottery customer at Mace Liquors in Essex, where the winning ticket was sold, store owner Hemant Shah said.

The woman, who asked store employees not to disclose her name, did not know that she had purchased the winning ticket -- valued at $27 million if annual payouts are chosen -- until Shah checked the numbers for her, he said.

"She had no idea what she was holding," he said. "Even after we told her, she said at first, `No, you're pulling my leg.'"

The woman intends to accept her prize as a lump sum valued at more than $15 million, Shah said, adding that he did know what she planned to do with her winnings.

He said that he planned to take his employees out to eat and make improvements to the store with $25,000 that he will receive from the lottery for selling the winning ticket.

Julie Scharper

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