In the early morning hours Friday, May 4, Tyler Brewster was on his third floor apartment’s balcony at 1504 W. Kilbourn Ave. with his roommate. Neither of them had been drinking alcohol. Brewster took a piece of rotting wood from the balcony and tossed it into a dumpster below. As he did, the balcony’s railing gave out, and Brewster toppled more than 30 feet onto the concrete sidewalk, narrowly missing a set of concrete steps.
The now-senior in the College of Nursing was rushed by ambulance to the Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, where doctors pronounced him in critical condition. He was suffering from an epidural hematoma, which is bleeding between the brain and the skull, and had broken vertebrae and a fractured jaw.
“I don’t remember any of it,” Brewster said. “I remember waking up in the hospital, but the first few days are foggy.”
Brewster spent three days in the intensive care unit and a week in the hospital. He continues to recover today, aided by months of physical therapy.
Brewster can easily walk and sit down to talk, but he still has nerve damage in his neck and shoulder.
“I’m obviously doing pretty good, but I do have therapy that I’m still doing,” Brewster said. “I was in therapy for six weeks this summer, and a lot of it has been on my own. Now it’s just stretching and (loosening) up my muscles.”
Brewster’s insurance paid for his hospital bills, and his parents are currently suing Shovers Realty, the owner of the Balcony Apartments building where he lived, for compensation.
In an email, a spokesperson for the company said the company is glad to hear Brewster is recovering well but declined to comment further.
Shovers has taken steps to fix up the apartments. The company put steel bars on the balconies overlooking Kilbourn Avenue, but some current residents of apartments are not pleased by the overall effort for tenants.
“Shover will not come over and fix my broken door knob, but they will come over and tell us how many people we can have in our apartment,” said Nathan Bilodeau, a junior in the College of Business Administration and a tenant of Brewster’s former apartment. “There’s not a communication problem; there’s a getting stuff done problem.”
The city of Milwaukee sends inspectors to all properties that house students around the city, according to its website. Specifically, inspectors look for many potentially defective aspects of the properties, including porch supports, guardrails or handrails and porch floors. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on May 4 that Shovers said its building was up to code.
There are still, however, planks of wood rotting away on the balconies, just like the one Brewster tossed into the dumpster before he fell. And in place of the collapsed railing there now rests a plank of wood screwed into the balcony ledges, and a bigger piece of wood to cover the hole that used to be the rest of the railing.
“We try to be careful out here. This really isn’t the best fix-up,” said Taylor Baxa, a junior in the College of Business Administration and Bilodeau’s roommate. Bilodeau agreed, saying he does not feel safe being on the balcony.
“Everyone (who) lives in these off-campus houses knows it’s not going to be the nicest place you’ve ever lived,” Bilodeau said. “I’ve got to expect there are going to be some problems. I’m not really affected by it, but I am glad that Tyler is doing OK.”