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Some relatives of Champlain Towers South victims urge Miami-Dade County not to dispose of any building remnants

Pablo Langesfeld, right, spoke at a press conference on Oct. 26, 2021, in front of where the Champlain Towers South condo building once stood.
Verónica Zaragovia
Pablo Langesfeld, right, spoke at a press conference on Oct. 26, 2021, in front of where the Champlain Towers South condo building once stood.

After the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Miami-Dade County moved remnants of the building to two locations. Doral has an outdoor space that has building rubble deemed no longer valuable as evidence to the county, which has suggested it can be disposed of.

Andrea Langesfeld, who lost her daughter, Nicole, in the condo building collapse on June 24 told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Judge Michael Hanzman that she doesn't think the material in the outdoor storage should be thrown out. Hanzman is overseeing all of the collapse-related litigation.

"There are still human remains there. We received only a portion of my daughter's body," she said during the last court status hearing on Oct. 20. "For me, it's really important that they continue the search for their bodies more than anything.

Each week, Hanzman gives time to survivors and victims' families so that they may speak to him directly about concerns or ask questions.

"That’s something you can do if you find it would be helpful to you," Hanzman replied. "But I don’t think any of your daughter’s remains are in that site that the county is talking about now."

The court-appointed receiver, Michael Goldberg, said Miami-Dade County assured him that officials spread the material out and sifted through it repeatedly for human remains and evidence.

"Police officers, homicide detectives would go down the line and find, look for anything of value and, unfortunately, remains," Goldberg told the court during that court hearing. "The county did that, it's my understanding, three times. The county has assured me that they're fairly certain that all remains and/or anything of value have been removed from the debris that was put on that lot. The county wants to dispose of that debris on the lot because they feel that it has no evidentiary value and all valuable items and remains have been removed from that."

About a week later, Pablo Langesfeld, Andrea's husband, stood with her and a few others who gathered for a press conference. The site of the former Champlain Tower was behind them. He said they haven’t yet received access to that rubble and said that the rubble should be searched again for human remains.

"As many searches as they have to be done," Langesfeld said to WLRN. "We want to have all the remains for our loved ones. This is not garbage."

His son, Martin Langesfeld, spoke at the makeshift podium holding a manilla envelope with the words "Medical Examiner Records" written on it.

"Four months ago, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Gov. Ron DeSantis, President Joe Biden came to tell me they will always be here for us," he said. "It's been four months of constant requests and four months of being constantly ignored. We did not want to be speaking in front of the site of the collapse today. We actually wanted to be speaking where they took the remains of our loved ones, but we're being denied access. In this envelope, I have reports from the medical examiner, which state I have a very, very, very small percentage of my family. My father had to sign a release stating we have less than 50% of our body."

In an email, Goldberg explained to WLRN that he does not control the Doral site; Miami-Dade County does. The communications director for the office of Levine Cava, Rachel Johnson, wrote to WLRN that within the last few weeks, the county provided tours of the Doral site to interested families so that they could have a better understanding of the work happening there. Johnson wrote that they hadn't received additional requests from families to access the site.

Rabbi Lisa Shrem, a close friend of the 98th identified victim, Estelle Hedaya, said Hedaya's family received only a bone fragment of their loved one so far. "It is under the jurisdiction of Miami-Dade County to do whatever they want with that debris — whether it's throw it out, or keep it, or what have you," Shrem said. "The wording was 'dispose,' and to a lot of family members that sounded like garbage, and it was very painful for them."

The court will receive an update from the receiver next week, on Nov. 3.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care, as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org
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