'Broke my heart:' Push to raze former Northridge Mall grows after maintenance worker electrocuted
MILWAUKEE -- The push to tear down the former Northridge Mall grew after a maintenance worker was electrocuted at the property Monday, July 22.
Victoriano Diaz, 37, was working with three friends when he stuck his hand in a high-voltage transformer. Those who were with Diaz when it happened said they saw and heard arching, and then saw Diaz shaking before he fell. He told them, “Don’t touch me,” before rolling up into a fetal position, at which point he stopped breathing. His friends called 911. Officials with Black Spruce Enterprise and Incorporated, the owners of Northridge Mall, confirmed Diaz was a maintenance worker who had been working with the company for about a year, and he had hired three of his friends to help with cleaning.
Alderwoman Chantia Lewis said this was the last straw.
"It broke my heart to see something like this happen," said Lewis.
Lewis said the tragedy served as a sad reminder of why she wants the building torn down.
"Get this building under control," said Lewis.
Vacant since 2006, Lewis said the empty mall has a number of hidden health issues.
"You've got asbestos and mold," said Lewis.
The space has become a public nuisance.
"People break in every day," said Lewis. "That's why I'm telling people to please stay out of the building. Do not go into Northridge Mall."
Lewis pointed to a viral YouTube video, viewed more than seven million times, as a reason vandals have been attracted to the site.
The medical examiner's report noted the electrical unit with 4,800 volts that electrocuted Diaz had been vandalized in the past for copper wiring. It was usually locked with two padlocks and one penta-lock that required a special key. The report said one side of it was closed and locked with two padlocks and the other side was open.
Lewis said she was waiting to hear why electricity was being provided to the previously dark building.
"To my knowledge, it had never been on during my tenure as an alder," said Lewis.
In April, the city issued raze orders to Black Spruce for the property, citing vandalism and the fact that the cost to repair the property exceeds its value -- something the company and its Milwaukee law firm Foley & Lardner disputed, filing a formal appeal in late May, saying the orders for demolition came as "a surprise to Black Spruce -- unilaterally issued with no prior warning." In early June, Black Spruce release renderings -- with plans to turn the property into an Asian market. City leaders called into question the company's timing.
Lewis said Wednesday the raze order was awaiting a potential appeal, but she remained hopeful.
"As long as the courts and everything uphold that, then we are fully expecting for that building to be razed by the end of this year," said Lewis.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was investigating the electrocution. A spokesman said it could take six months.
Meanwhile, Diaz's family set up a GoFundMe to help cover funeral expenses and support his wife and six children.