Part of gargoyle falls from church, kills woman in South Loop

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A mother of two was killed just blocks from her home, her stunned boyfriend standing next to her, when she was hit by a piece of a gargoyle that broke off the tower of a historic church in the South Loopon Thursday.

The decorative stone piece fell from the Second Presbyterian Church in the 1900 block of South Michigan just afternoon, hitting Sarah Bean, 34.

Bean, of the 2000 block of South State, was waiting to cross the street with her boyfriend, Lance Johnson, when it happened. They were heading out to lunch, her family said.

“She was walking with Lance, and they said something fell. It’s horrible,” said Bean’s sister-in-law Candice Willis. “It really just came out of nowhere.”

Crystal Harris was the first to call 911. She was sitting in a CTA bus that had stopped for a few moments across the street just after the piece of stone fell.

“He was screaming and rolling around on the floor and just hysterical,” said Harris, 31, referring to Bean’s boyfriend.

“He was trying to get cars to stop to help, but they kept going. They must have thought he was a crazy person. He stepped into traffic and one of the cars honked at him, and he threw his umbrella into the air.”

“She wasjust lying there with her head split open,” she added, referring to Bean.

Authorities said she died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.Michael Willis, Bean’s brother, rushed to the hospital, where he was able to see her before she died.

Then he went to see the church.

“All I saw was fragments of what had hit her. It just went loose. You could see what fell,” Michael Willis said.

Candice Willis said her sister-in-law was very passionate about her family and her boyfriend.

“Her family, that was her life,” she said. There was “nobody in the family that she ever got into it with.”

Bean leaves behind two children with her boyfriend, sons ages 9 and 14. Her brother said she was a positive influence on her sons, and his family, as well.And after years and years together, Bean and her boyfriend had plans to marry, Candice Willis said.

“She was just a great human being. She loved life. She was outgoing. She was very supportive of all of the people in her life,” Michael Willis said.

Bean had worked atLurieChildren’s Hospital for seven years, hospital spokeswoman JuliePeschsaid. She was scheduled to work her regular night shiftThursdayat the hospital, where she provided technical support to nurses in the intensive care unit, Peschsaid.

“She was a beloved staff member and people are really upset here at the hospital,”Peschsaid. “Our chaplains are working with the staff.”

“We’re going to miss her. She was just so young. It’s shocking. She had so much more to do in her life,” her sister-in-law said.

The city’s Department of Buildings is inspecting the church, which had a history of failed inspections.

The department said a corner of one of the metal decorative pieces on the exterior of the building gave way. When it fell, it struck a gargoyle on the corner of the steeple, causing part of the gargoyle to fall and hit the woman.

The church most recently passed inspections in February 2012 and March 2013. And it had not yet been inspected this year.

The church failed annual inspections twice in 2011; and in 2010, 2009 and 2007,according to records from the buildings department.

One of the citations from the last failed inspection included “failing to maintain exterior walls of a building or structure free from holes, breaks, loose or rotting boards or timbers and any other conditions which might admit rain or dampness to the walls.”

The church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2013 “in recognition of its Arts and Crafts interior,” according to the church’s website.

Construction on the church began in 1872 and the bell tower, containing a 4,101-pound bell, was added in 1884.

For many Chicagoans,Thursday’stragedy likely brought to mind the 1999 incident in which a piece of glass from a window that cracked on the 29th floor ofCNATower, 333 S. Wabash, fell on Ana Flores, killing her. Flores, 38, was holding her 3-year-old daughter’s hand as they walked on the sidewalk. The girl was not hurt.

CNA, an insurance company, settled a lawsuit brought by the Flores family for $18 million.

Over the years, a series of consultants found that the building’s glass was unable to withstand what’s known as “thermal stress,” which occurs when a warm area of glass expands against a cooler area, creating pressure that can cause it to crack.

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