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Why 33 Years Later, We Still Don't Have A Memorial For The Skywalk Disaster

Thirty-three years after the deadly collapse of a skywalk at the Hyatt Regency Hotel near downtown Kansas City, Mo., the foundation trying to build a memorial for the victims says it has raised 70 percent of their goal.

The Skywalk Memorial Foundation has $382,824 in cash donations, leaving them with around $163,000 to raise to reach the amount necessary to begin construction. The proposed memorial will be at Hospital Hill Park at 22nd Street and Gillham Road.

The 1981 disaster killed 114 and injured more than 200, and was the most deadly structural collapse until the collapse of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. If completed, the memorial will be the first to honor the victims and first-responders of the disaster.

Skywalk Memorial Foundation board member, former deputy police chief and first-responder Vince Ortega says there are often delays when trying to build memorials for disasters that are man-made rather that natural.

"Part of it is because of a lot of litigation over the years," he says.

Ortega says there was animosity between the hotel, Crown Center and Hallmark Corp., and no one wanted to finance a memorial and have it appear as an admittance of wrongdoing.

Litigation has long ended and fault was isolated to the work of one engineer, but Ortega says shortly after involved parties came to a shared understanding of the events and the Skywalk Memorial Foundation was formed, the recession hit, further delaying fundraising.

Ortega has been on the board of the Skywalk Memorial Foundation since its inception in 2006. The organization is headed by Kansas City-based attorney, Brent Wright, whose mother and stepfather were killed in the collapse when he was 16 years old.

Ortega was a police officer with the Kansas City Police Department at the time and was dispatched to the scene. He says he is hopeful that they will be able to complete fundraising and break ground on the memorial before the 34th anniversary of the tragedy in 2015.

"Just like any history, if you don't remember history you repeat the same mistake," he says.

A California native, Briana comes to KCUR by way of KMUW in Wichita, Kan. and KUSP in Santa Cruz, Calif.
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