New Jersey

Long-Term Water Damage Likely Caused Deadly New Jersey House Collapse, Engineer Says

The house collapsed around a family in their South Broad Street home in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, leaving a mother dead. Her daughters were pulled from the rubble.

What to Know

  • Long-term water damage caused a New Jersey home to collapse, killing a mom and injuring her 2 daughters, according to preliminary findings.
  • Hamilton Township hired a licensed engineer to investigate the collapse.
  • Investigators say the victim, Tika Justice, likely saved her daughter's life by shielding her body from the debris.

Long-term water damage likely caused a central New Jersey home to collapse, killing a woman and injuring her two daughters, according to preliminary findings from a licensed engineer.

Officials released the report from consulting engineer Robert Busch, who was hired to investigate the deadly collapse of a three-story home that once stood along South Broad Street near Joseph Street in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.

"We believe chronic, long-term water penetration through the east side exterior wall led to the extensive deterioration and crumbling of at least one course of block probably over a wide area," Busch wrote.

The home collapsed around 7 a.m. Monday. Neighbor James Feig found a woman chest deep in bricks and debris where the house once stood.

That 20-year-old woman was on her cellphone with dispatchers moments after the collapse, Feig said. He comforted her until crews were able to free her from the rubble.

"I could see that she was physically OK, but she was very much upset," Feig said.

The woman, who had suffered scrapes and bruises, said her family members were trapped in the rubble.

Firefighters, rescue teams and search dogs found 38-year-old Tika Justice dead on top of her 16-year-old daughter, who survived, on the second floor, according to investigators.

Both the daughters were listed in serious, but stable condition at the hospital. The 20-year-old said she heard a cracking noise and was running out of the home when it collapsed, police said.

State police, local police, firefighters and utilities responded to the scene. PSE&G turned off gas to the area as part of standard routine after a collapse.

Rescue teams scour the debris left by a house collapse in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, Monday morning.

Neighbors in the area told NBC10's Pamela Osborne that they didn't feel or hear an explosion.

Broad Street was closed between Lily Street and New Cedar Lane as crews responded to the scene.

Through his preliminary investigation, Busch determined that disintegrating block in the home gave way leading to several floor joists slipping off their supports and the home collapsing.

"In conclusion and with a reasonable degree of engineering certainty, we believe the proximate cause of the catastrophic collapse of 1804 South Broad Street was from the failure of deteriorated concrete block due to long-term water penetration," Busch wrote.

Justice likely died while saving her daughter's life by shielding her from the debris, according to investigators. 

"She's that type of person," Justice's brother Brushaun Davis said. "She'll save her kid before she saves herself."

Family members say Justice's daughters also lost their father years ago.

"They don't have nobody but us," Davis said. "But of course we're going to do what we've got to do."

The 16-year-old girl suffered the worst injuries. Her sister plans to remain by her bedside in the hospital until she's okay to come home.

Family Photo
Tika Justice
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