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Stone Gargoyle Falls Off Landmark Church, Killing Mom of Two Walking Below

By Quinn Ford | September 4, 2014 2:45pm | Updated on September 4, 2014 7:38pm
 A 34-year-old woman died Thursday after she was struck by a piece of stone that fell from a South Loop building, authorities said.
Falling Stone From South Loop Building Kills Woman, 34
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SOUTH LOOP — In a freak accident, the head of a stone gargoyle fell from the steeple of a historic South Loop church Thursday afternoon, striking and killing a 34-year-old mother of two who was set to get married later this year, authorities said.

Sarah Bean was walking to lunch with her fiancé at noon Thursday when the tragedy occurred. She was passing the 140-year-old Second Presbyterian Church at 1936 S. Michigan Ave. when the stone gargoyle hit her in the head, authorities said.

Bean lived nearby in the 2000 block of South State Street, authorities said.

Quinn Ford spoke with Bean's brother outside of the church:

The church was built in 1874, and is a national historic landmark. A Buildings Department spokeswoman said a chain reaction caused the tragedy. "A corner of one of the metal decorative pieces on the exterior of the building gave way. When it fell, it struck the gargoyle on the southeast corner of the steeple causing a portion of the gargoyle to fall, striking the victim."

The woman was taken to Northwestern Memorial in critical condition and was later pronounced dead, said Bari Lemmon, a Chicago Police spokesman.

Thursday afternoon, Michael Willis, Bean's older brother, came to the church after seeing his sister's body at the hospital.

"I had to say my goodbyes, and at the same time, I promised her to find out what was going on," Willis said. "And that's what I intend to do."

Willis said Bean was going to lunch with her fiancé when the stone struck her. The two had plans to marry later this year, Willis said.

Bean, one of five siblings, used to live just down the block from the church and had passed by it "millions of times," Willis said. Bean had two sons, ages 8 and 14, and also took care of a niece and nephew, Willis said.

"She was a great person, genuinely cared about people," Willis said, calling her a great sister, mother and worker. Bean worked as a nursing support services technician at Lurie Children's Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Willis said he would jokingly call his sister "the selfie queen," saying she liked to take photos and was always trying to reinvent her look.

Willis stood alone on the corner of Cullerton and Michigan, looking up at the spot on the church where the stone fell and fatally struck his sister. He wiped his eyes as he climbed into his SUV to drive away. Willis said he was going to tell Bean's two sons what had happened. Right now, the family wants answers, he said.

"I'm trying to find answers why. Why did this happen?" Willis said. "I know this could have been prevented...It could have happened to if not my sister, somebody else."

The church was cited numerous times in the last several years for building violations. In 2011, it was cited for failing "to maintain the 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."

City records show the repairs were made by January 2012.

Bean had worked for Lurie Children's Hospital for seven years and was "beloved by staff" at the hospital, said Julie Pesch, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Bean began working in environmental services before switching to her current position, where she worked closely with nursing staff in the hospital's intensive care unit, Pesch said.

Pesch described Bean's unit as a close-knit staff and said a chaplain was on hand Thursday to help coworkers who were devastated by the news.

The Rev. Robert C. Reynolds, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Chicago, the church's governing organization, said it was working with leaders of the church and offered prayers to Bean's family.

"We're devastated by the death of this woman and the fact that it is a function of some of the masonry at the Second Presbyterian Church," he said. "My prayers go out to that woman and her family."

He said the presbytery, had never been notified of building violations at the South Loop church.

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