For two years, Jaymi Wendt's death has been blamed on a tornado that ripped through Rogers, carving a 6-mile path of destruction. Now, attorneys for Jaymi's family say it was the poor construction of the house she was in, and not the tornado, that killed the 10-year-old girl.
"The tornado didn't kill the child; faulty construction caused her death," said attorney Patrick Sauter who represents Jaymi's mother, Jodi A. Wendt, and her brother, Jake Wendt, in a wrongful-death suit scheduled to begin today in Hennepin County District Court. "The tornado didn't harm anybody else," Sauter said last week.
Six people were treated for injuries and 340 houses were damaged in the Sept. 16, 2006, storm that moved so swiftly that weather officials did not have time to sound sirens. But Jaymi's death, which occurred at a neighbor's house built by Monarch Homes Inc. in 1998, might have been prevented had the house's foundation been more sound, Sauter said.
At issue are anchor bolts embedded in concrete blocks -- bolts that might not have been spaced closely enough together or deep enough to firmly secure the base of the house's walls, said Sauter, of the Minneapolis law firm Bassford Remele.
"The property was not constructed ... in compliance with applicable building laws, codes, ordinances, regulations or in accordance with industry standards," the suit says.
A spokesperson for the Twin Cities office of Monarch Homes in Ramsey declined to comment.
Brook Builders Inc. and Consolidated Concrete and Masonry Inc. also are listed as defendants.
Jaymi Wendt had accompanied her brother Jake, then 19, who was asked by neighbors Jeff and Beth Heibel to babysit the Heibels' two young children, according to the lawsuit. When the storm hit, Jake ushered the children to the basement, Sauter said.
Jaymi was leading the way when her world went black and the house began to collapse, Sauter said. The sheer weight of the upper floor caused it to collapse into the basement, he said.
"It was like a wedding cake, with the top floor, intact, falling," Sauter said. "Now the family wants accountability."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419