Could fatal falling debris accident have been avoided?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- After a South Loop woman was killed when hit by falling debris, some are asking: was it a freak accident or could it have been avoided?

Sara Bean, 34, was killed while walking on the sidewalk outside the Second Presbyterian Church in the South Loop when a piece gave way.

PHOTOS: Woman killed by falling facade from South Loop church

Second Presbyterian is a national historic landmark, and there are more than 20 churches that have that designation on a national or local level.

Preservationists consider them outdoor museums, but these aging buildings have people asking how safe they are and who should take care of them.

Inspectors are out and scaffolding surrounds Second Presbyterian Church in the South Loop after the death of Sara Bean.

"I have fear now. I will not walk that way at all whatsoever," said Mayra Rangel, witness.

On Thursday, a piece of decorative metal on the church's tower cracked off and smashed a gargoyle, and the falling debris struck and killed Bean.

While thoughts are with her family, there is an overarching issue of preserving historic religious buildings, and putting fear in perspective.

"This was a freak accident, but it is not something the general public needs to fear," said Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois.

With proper maintenance, McDonald says religious buildings are historical gems society, and not just a congregation, must preserve.

"You don't need to be a parishioner there, you can make a donation or give in-kind if you have some kind of service to provide," said McDonald.

At Second Presbyterian, there is group specifically tasked to preserve the building. In the last professional analysis in 2011, which the Buildings Commissioner shared with Eyewitness News on Friday, the church was deemed "safe." And there was no mention of the tower.

"The area of the failure yesterday wasn't noted as an issue at the there was no prior indication before yesterday," said Chicago Department of Buildings Commissioner Felicia Davis.

Those who repair these old buildings see two lessons: owners must be pro-active....and not all problems are instantly apparent.

"Without X-Ray vision, it is often very, very difficult to detect the defects," said Tom Rivkin, central building and preservation owner.

Because once work begins, you may uncover problems you never noticed.

So far, Chicago's Department of Buildings has not issued Second Presbyterian any code violations, but they are still in the early stages of their investigation.

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