Watch CBS News

Columbia College student Annie Shea Wheeler can't remember being crushed by falling façade in Wicker Park; 'That's both scary and comforting'

Columbia College student Annie Shea Wheeler can't remember being crushed by falling façade in Wicke 03:36

CHIAGO (CBS) -- Nearly two weeks after chunks of falling limestone fell on her, fracturing her skull, as she was walking home in Wicker Park, Columbia College student Annie Shea Wheeler is still suffering symptoms of a concussion, and can't remember the moment she nearly died.

"That's both scary and comforting, because I don't want to remember that," Wheeler said from her hospital room Monday afternoon.

Wheeler, 22, is expected to be released from Stroger Hospital of Cook County on Monday, following at least two surgeries. Her attorney, Bruno Marasso, said she suffered a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain, which required life-saving surgery after part of the façade fell on her from a building at the northeast corner of Ashland and Milwaukee avenues on April 6.

Annie Shea Wheeler, 22, suffered a fractured skull and a traumatic brain injury, when a chunk of the façade from a building in Wicker Park fell on her on April 6, 2022. CBS

Marasso said Wheeler suffered a traumatic brain injury, and required additional surgery for leaking spinal fluid after her initial surgery. He expects she will need further surgery as she continues a recovery he expects will take years.

Wheeler still has one bloodshot eye, and multiple surgical staples in her skull following her surgery.

She said she now faces a "slow and tedious" recovery, and will face the prospect of long-term sensory issues and mental health challenges, including serious depression and developmental issues.

"It's going to be intense," she said.    

Marasso, a partner at the law firm Romanucci & Blandin, said they have filed a lawsuit against the building owners and the company that put up the scaffolding around the building, seeking more than $50,000 in damages to pay for Wheeler's medical bills, as well as her pain and suffering, and loss of future wages due to her injuries.  

"This is one tough young woman, and she's going to do her best to work through that," Marasso said. "This is going to be something that carries Annie into her mid- or late-20s, and obviously she's up to that task."

"She's been through hell," said Romanucci & Blandin spokeswoman Jennifer McGuffin.

Annie Shea Wheeler, a student at Columbia College, is seen before she was seriously injured by falling limestone from a building in Wicker Park. Photo provided to CBS

Wheeler called the past two weeks "completely uprooting, completely vulnerable, almost violating."

"I'm graduating college in a few weeks, and it feels like my whole life just did a somersault, and I had a lot going for me, and I still do, but this is extremely unfortunate," she said.

Wheeler said she won't be able to finish school, and instead will have to move back home to Michigan to continue her recovery, "and that's not ideal."

"I'm being forced to leave my partner, and being forced to leave the best living situation I've ever known, and a community and a family here that supports me, especially as a queer person," she said.

Wheeler said all she can recall from the incident is that she was taking her routine walk home on April 6, on her way from the Blue Line, using the same crosswalk she always does, and the next thing she remembers is opening her eyes on the ground, and seeing her roommate across the street.

"I do remember waking up in the hospital, I remember that, and that's somewhat clear. That's pretty clear to me," she said, adding that the rest of the incident remains vague. 

Marasso said, before the chunks of limestone fell on Wheeler on April 6, pieces of stone had been falling from the building for weeks, some of them as large as couch cushions.

As recently as March 21, the building owner had been told by city to make necessary repairs to crumbling façade, but no such repairs had been made, according to Marasso.

"What happened to Annie Wheeler is unthinkable, but more importantly it was completely preventable," Marasso said. "Our investigation into her life-threatening injuries will be very thorough, and all of those responsible will be held responsible."

College student crushed by façade describes life-changing injuries 02:01

Facebook video from the day of the incident shows good Samaritans rushing to help Wheeler moments after she fell to the ground. She was surrounded by debris that fell from the building.

The marquee-light sign for Value Pawn, the now-out-of-business pawn shop that was once located in the building, also fell down and was left dangling from the scaffolding canopy out front.

A day after the façade fell on Wheeler, crews removed slabs of the fallen façade from the ground, and placed it into a nearby dumpster. Parts of the façade that could be safely removed also were taken down.

The scaffolding company also extended the border of the canopy on the south side of the building, which was not in place on Wednesday.

The same day, city attorneys filed an emergency motion in Cook County court, seeking an immediate appointment of a receiver to make the necessary repairs to the façade, and it was granted.

Ross Luisi, who owns a business next to the building, has said about three weeks before the façade fell on Wheeler, debris fell from the same building.

"It was not cleaned up for a week and a half," Luisi said. "People were just walking over it. - all in that area - large pieces of three, four-hundred-pound slabs of the façade."

The Department of Buildings confirmed, around that same time on March 21, they contacted an agent of the owner of the vacant building after an anonymous 311 call. The person was told to:

• Immediately put up a heavy-duty canopy on the public way around the front of the buildings.

• Get a licensed structural engineer to assess the building façade.

• Get a licensed masonry contractor to make emergency repairs.

While the heavy-duty canopy was put in place, the owner did not make any repairs. The owner of the building did not respond to requests for comment regarding those required repairs.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.