Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Theresa Velasquez identified as the voice in Surfside condo collapse rubble

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For hours, crews raced to rescue a woman whose faint voice could be heard from underneath mounds of rubble. She had somehow survived after Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., pancaked to the ground in the early morning of June 24, but she was trapped.

Search-and-rescue dogs had picked up the scent of a living person stuck underneath the parking garage around 6:30 a.m. — about five hours after the building fell, a new report from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue says. She answered when the crew members called out for her, but rescuers were ultimately unable to reach her. She became one of nearly 100 people who were killed in the collapse.

The question of her identity remained a sobering loose end for the fire department for months after the disaster. Officials now say the woman was Theresa Velasquez, a 36-year-old music executive from Los Angeles who was visiting her parents. Julio Cesar Velasquez, 67, and his wife, Angela Maria, 60 — who lived in unit 304 — also died in the collapse.

Velasquez spent much of her career in the music industry, the Miami Herald reported. After going to NYU to earn her master’s in music business, she went on to work for a few record labels. She eventually landed at Live Nation, where she worked for six years and was the senior vice president of strategic partnerships. Throughout her career, Velasquez worked to create more visibility and inclusivity for the LGBTQ community in the music industry, according to the Herald. In 2020, Billboard included her on its top executives list for Pride Month.

Following her death, colleagues in the music industry praised Velasquez for her work. Tracy Young, a producer, DJ and composer, said Velasquez was integral to the music communities in Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

“I feel I lost a sister and don’t understand why you were taken so young, with your whole life ahead of you,” she wrote in a Facebook tribute to Velasquez. “I enjoyed watching another female DJ take over the DJ and music community. … Your talent and spirit has touched many and we will never forget!”

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The fire department’s findings, first reported by WFOR, refute a USA Today network reporter’s account of the rescue attempt, which identified the victim as Valeria Barth — a 14-year-old who was in the unit directly below the Velasquez family. The new report from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, dated April 25, is based on “testimonial and physical evidence,” Deputy Fire Chief Raied S. Jadallah wrote.

A spokeswoman for Gannett, which owns USA Today, said the company is “reviewing the new report from MDFR.”

“The facts and the sourcing in our story are clear. We have no additional comment at this time,” she added in a statement to The Washington Post.

Responders on the scene gave differing accounts about the voice they heard coming from under the rubble. Some reported hearing the person say she was from unit 204, while others recalled hearing 304. Barth and her family had been visiting from Colombia and were staying in unit 204.

“[It] was challenging to hear the woman because of the distance,” the report from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue states, adding that rescue crews said they could communicate with her only “when all operations ceased, and everyone was silenced.”

“Even the faintest whisper from the rescue crews or sloshing in the standing water negated any ability to hear the woman,” the report adds.

In describing the voice, rescuers also noted that the woman spoke English with no accent. Video footage of Velasquez reviewed by officials matched her speaking style, the report says.

Barth’s native language is Spanish, the report notes.

The voice also sounded as if it belonged to an adult, rescuers said. Additionally, the person said she was visiting her parents and “remained calm when communicating with the rescuers,” according to the report.

He wanted to head home to Champlain Towers. His girlfriend wanted him to stay. She may have saved his life.

Emergency responders finally found and extricated Velasquez’s body on July 8, two weeks after the collapse.

Velasquez’s brother, David, told WFOR that he accepts the findings from the report.

“There is no way to know 100 percent,” he said, “but it seems like the logical conclusion.”



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