Court official injured after being hit by falling wood panel in Columbus Government Center

Georgia News

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — New concerns have been raised about the safety of the Columbus Government Center.

Last week a Muscogee County court official was hit in the head by falling piece of paneling.

A court official was leaving a seventh-floor courtroom last week when part of the wall fell, Chief Superior Court Judge Gil McBride tells News 3.

“A piece of paneling weighing about 78.5 pounds broke loose from the wall of one of the courtrooms and fell and hit a court employee who was exiting the courtroom,” McBride said. “It was right over one of the side doors.”

The woman was treated at a local hospital and received stitches, McBride said. The event sparked immediate action, Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson told News 3.

“As soon as we were made aware of it, I contacted the city manager and he and I discussed doing a complete safety check of all courtrooms — anywhere where any individual is going to be sitting,” Henderson said.

The mayor said the mitigation is ongoing.

“I don’t have a timeline. I know that it is going on right now,” Henderson said. “They have already started it. And as soon as we can possibly get through there we are going to do it.”

You can see in the video where the piece of wood paneling that fell was put back in place using two bolts.

McBride is currently not operating out of his Columbus office because of pipe leaks that had dropped waste into the suite. That waste includes bird fecal matter.

The judge says it’s a public safety issue.

“You and I can make our own decisions about where we go to lunch,” McBride said. “Where we go to dinner, who we associate with. But people don’t have that same choice when it comes time to go to court. So if we are ordering people to be there, we need to make sure we are ordering them to be in a safe place.”

Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson told News 3 that city officials are working to make the building safe.

“We know that it’s a 50-year-old building,” the mayor said. “We know that we have some challenges in terms of we do everything we can and can identify to make it as safe as possible. Not just for the 1,200 citizens who come through those doors every day but certainly for our employees.”

And the judge said what happened last week could have been much worse.

“I think it’s pretty clear that a worse tragedy was avoided.” McBride said. “It was a situation where if there were more people in there, if it had been a different piece of paneling. If any number of factors had played out differently, it could have been much worse with a much worse outcome.”

News of the injured court employee comes as the city is discussing a possible Special Purpose Sales Tax that would include a new judicial center.

The city is currently spending about $5 million for health and safety improvements to the building including a fire supression system.

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