SURFSIDE, Fla. – One year after the Champlain Towers South building collapsed, killing 98 people and displacing hundreds of residents, the husband and daughter of Judy Spiegel reflected on what it has been like without her.
Spiegel, 65, was one of the 98 people who died during the early June 24, 2021, collapse of Champlain Towers South. Spiegel was home alone on the sixth floor when her side of the 12-story building started falling.
Her husband, Kevin Spiegel, was out of town when happened. Hours before the collapse, Judy’s daughter, Rachel Spiegel, said goodnight to her mother over the phone, not knowing it would be the last time she would communicate with her.
Both Kevin and Rachel said it’s been a difficult year for the entire family.
“In the beginning, it was surreal. We couldn’t understand what actually happened. Although we are an intelligent family, there’s part of all of us that didn’t believe what actually occurred,” Kevin said.
Rachel said, “The challenging part of the transition has been the everyday, day-to-day life and learning how to function without my mom’s presence. That’s been hard — hard for my dad, hard for me and my brothers, and hard for my kids.”
Going back to the location where Judy lost her life is not easy, nor is going near that location.
“Pretty much most of the year I’ve been driving around the site not to see it because it’s actually very painful,” Kevin said.
Celebrating holidays and Spiegel family gatherings are not the same because, according to Kevin and Rachel, Judy was the one who kept those events organized.
“They’re definitely less organized and definitely less proactive,” said Rachel with a bit of laughter.
Kevin said, “I’m a CEO of a hospital, but she was the CEO of our family.”
Chattanooga community mourns philanthropist who raised money for children
The Spiegel family received a lot of support and condolences from communities all over the United States where Judy lived and made a big impact.
One community, in particular, was the Erlanger Hospital community in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While Kevin was the CEO of Erlanger between 2013 and 2019, his wife was a philanthropist who was well known in Chattanooga for raising money for Children’s Hospital at Erlanger.
She was also well known for taking up causes that promoted the health and well-being of children in Chattanooga.
National and international support comes in
Support for the Spiegel family also came from the White House when President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden flew to South Florida and met with Judy’s husband and children, along with the families of the other building collapse victims.
Months after Judy’s funeral, the Spiegel family took a trip to Israel where they personally thanked the Israel Defense Forces’ Search and Rescue team. The IDF Search and Rescue team had traveled to South Florida to help with the search, rescue and recovery efforts at the site of the building collapse.
While in Israel, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the family.
Legal action follows
In the days following the building collapse, state fire marshals, code enforcement and condo associations across Florida began looking into other older high-rise condos and apartment buildings to make sure what happened to the Champlain Towers South didn’t happen again. Kevin told News4JAX that the tragedy put a spotlight on making sure high-rise buildings were up to code, as well as making sure new construction of high-rise buildings was safe.
“I think that if building construction is improved, it can only help,” he said.
In May, the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 4D. The legislation, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law, calls for stricter requirements for the inspection and maintenance of condominiums and other high-rise buildings throughout the state. The new legislation requires inspection of:
- Condominiums three stories in height and within 3 miles of the coast when the buildings reach 25 years of age
- Buildings more than 3 miles inland when they reach 30 years of age
Buildings will also be required to have an inspection every 10 years with inspection records made available to buyers, renters and unit owners
The site of the Champlain Towers South collapse is currently a vacant lot that was recently purchased for $120 million by a developer in Dubai. The purchase of that property comes the same month as an attorney representing the Spiegel family along with the families of other victims, survivors and the developers of an adjacent building reached a settlement of about $1 billion.
“I think the legal process is wonderful. I respect all the attorneys and judges in this case and I think this is the legal community coming together to help the families,” Kevin said when asked about how the legal side of things was playing out.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is investigating the cause of the collapse, a process expected to take years. Champlain South had a long history of maintenance problems and questions have been raised about the quality of its original construction and inspections in the early 1980s.