Families of SouthPark construction fire victims file wrongful death lawsuit

CHARLOTTE — The families of the two men who died in a construction site fire in Charlotte’s SouthPark neighborhood have filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The estates of Demonte Sherrill and Reuben Holmes are suing Mill Creek Residential, SouthPark Charlotte Apartments, MCRT Carolinas Construction, also known as Modera South Park, Mill Creek Residential Services, MCRT South Florida, Kentucky Overhead Door, and Baker Insulation.

Sherrill and Holmes, who were working to install windows, died on May 18, 2023 in a five-alarm fire. The blaze started in a foam-spraying machine and spread to the under-construction apartment complex. Firefighters rescued 15 people.

In the months since, the North Carolina Department of Labor has reached a settlement with two of three companies that were fined for safety violations leading to the deadly fire.


Now, on Thursday, the estates of the victims have filed a new lawsuit over the safety conditions at the worksite. Sherrill’s estate is represented by his mother and Holmes’ by his niece. They allege the defendants’ “willful and wanton disregard and violations of the laws, ordinances, rules, regulations, standards and requirements regarding fire prevention and fire safety on construction sites” led to the construction workers’ deaths.

The plaintiffs allege the companies’ safety violations prevented people from exiting the building and hampered responding firefighters.

The families allege the “preventable” fire was first discovered at 8:55 a.m. on May 18, but no one called 911 until 9:02 a.m. They say part of that delay is because Mill Creek didn’t have a fire safety plan in place at the time. There were no alarms, working sprinklers, or emergency telephones to alert anyone else about the fire, they said.

“No alarm system was utilized to alert workers of the situation. Two subcontractor employees (Demonte Sherrill and Reuben Holmes) working on the sixth floor of Building B were not able to evacuate, resulting in their fatal injuries,” the lawsuit reads.

There was also no working water connection for responding firefighters, and the women allege that slowed down Charlotte Fire’s response, leading to the workers’ deaths.

“Because they had no water supply, they had to evacuate the building shortly after getting close enough to Sherrill and Holmes to her them calling for help nearby,” they said.

As established in the OSHA investigation, there was only one staircase in the building where the fire started. That means neither worker could evacuate and firefighters couldn’t access them.

“Despite the need for at least two means of egress at the project, a temporary set of stairs was not erected at another location to replace the stairway that had been removed, so that when the fire occurred, a seven-story building that was 355 feet long had only a single staircase at one side of the building,” it reads.

The lawsuit also discussed the spray foam machine, which is where the fire originated. The plaintiffs allege the machine should not have been used in the parking deck as the building was “cluttered with flammable construction materials and debris, including new flammable bathtubs, remnants of wood, and other flammable materials.” They said the machine already presented a fire hazard because the exhaust was not being vented.

The lawsuit details the moments that immediately followed the discovery of the fire:

  • The foam spraying gun stopped working, so a worker goes back to the machine’s engine to fire out why it failed. He discovers it’s on fire, so he unsuccessfully tries to extinguish it.
  • Instead of calling 911, he calls his boss. Other Mill Creek employees also try to put out the fire but can’t.
  • 911 is called at least seven minutes after the fire was initially discovered.

“Instead of utilizing an established alarm system audible throughout all work areas, the Mill Creek Defendants tried to alert workers in Building B of the need to evacuate by sending two employees to climb the only stairway (on the opposite side of the building from where the Fire started) and shout ‘fire, fire’ on each floor on the way both up and down,” the lawsuit reads.

The plaintiffs believe the machine’s engine failure was caused by Baker Insulation failing to “properly service, operate and maintain the [machine], including its engine.”

The plaintiffs are each asking the defendants for damages of $50,000, totaling $100,000 between them.

Channel 9 is reaching out to the companies being sued for a response.

(WATCH BELOW: Heroes in SouthPark fire officially recognized for ‘heroism and selflessness’)

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