Terrace collapses at Lake Erie winery; one killed

MIDDLE BASS ISLAND, Ohio - A concrete terrace loaded with tourists collapsed at an island winery in Lake Erie on Saturday, killing one person and injuring about 80, authorities said.

''I heard a crack and I just dropped. It was like sliding down a hill,'' said Wade Weaver, 23, of Gibsonburg. ''I kept thinking it was like an earthquake hit.''

The collapse left a hole in the floor of the lakefront terrace at Lonz Winery's century-old main building, a fortresslike mansion on the National Register of Historic Places.

''It just came loose and gave way,'' said Steve Ernst, 31, who watched the floor crumble and drop. ''People pulled doors off hinges to create backboards'' to carry the injured out the door of a wine cellar where the victims and rubble fell. The cellar was unoccupied but contained casks.

The floor apparently collapsed under the weight of the people on it, said John Blatt, mayor of the nearby island resort village of Put-In-Bay.

A 29-year-old Columbus man died at the scene, Put-In-Bay Police Chief Jim Lang said. Earlier police and Coast Guard reports incorrectly stated that two people had died.

Pat McCloskey, spokesman for the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency, said paramedics estimated 30 people were critically injured but that most were in stable condition in hospitals by evening.

Lang said about 100 people were on the 25-by-20-foot terrace where the 4-inch-thick floor collapsed. He said it fell 16 to 18 feet down.

Eight of the most seriously injured were flown by helicopter to St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo. Hospital spokeswoman Catharine Harned said five were in critical condition.

Emergency personnel were called in from as far away as Cleveland, 60 miles away, and closer cities such as Toledo and Bowling Green. The Coast Guard said a 47-foot motor lifeboat was at the scene. Lang said more than 40 people were flown off the island and the rest left by boat.

The winery was closed after a dog searched the rubble and found no additional victims, Lang said.

The Lonz Winery sits on about 120 acres of a Lake Erie island about 6 miles from the mainland. Only about 40 people live on Middle Bass Island but as many as 1,500 visitors stay during busy summer weekends.

George Prusock, 25, of Mayfield Heights was one of at least 30 injured people taken to Magruder Memorial Hospital in Port Clinton. He said he was attending a bachelor party at the winery when the terrace collapsed, injuring both his legs and trapping a friend.

''It was our buddy's last hurrah before he got married,'' Prusock said.

''The next thing you know, the floor collapsed and he's under the pop machine. The floor just dropped. Nobody had any time to react.''

The young adults who party at the winery buy bottles of wine there and carry them to picnic tables, where they socialize as a band plays '80s and '90s hits.

Famous as a winery in the 19th century, the site hasn't been used for growing grapes for more than 20 years.

Its owners, Paramount Distilleries Inc., decided to sell it last year, but are keeping the winery open while negotiations continue.

The state is buying the site for $6.75 million for a park that will feature nature trails and eventually could have a campground, swimming beach and resort lodge.


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