The dusty rubble of the Hard Rock Hotel New Orleans now serves as a tomb for the body of Jose De Jesus Ponce Arreola - a grim fact at the center of a lawsuit filed by his family against the developers and builders of the hotel project.
Arreola was 62 years old and was working on the 18th floor of the still unfinished structure when the floors began to give way on Oct. 12.
"There was an indication that the floors were slowly caving in - the top floors," said attorney Arturo Jauregui. "Rather than stopping the construction and launching an investigation to find out what was going on, the developers just plunged ahead and exposed the workers to unnecessary risk."
Three workers died that day and more than 20 others were injured when several floors of the multistory building pancaked as the Hard Rock Hotel that was under construction near the historic French Quarter partially collapsed.
Hard Rock International issued a statement expressing sympathy for victims and their families. The statement said the company had a licensing agreement with the building's owner, Kailas Companies, and Hard Rock had no involvement in the construction. It identified the contractor on the project as Citadel Builders LLC.
Citadel Builders LLC, the contractor on the project, said more than 100 workers were on site at the time of the collapse. An email from spokesman Brian Trascher said company officials were working with emergency workers on a plan to stabilize the building.
The cause of the collapse remains unknown. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration and police are investigating and, officials said evidence gathering began soon after the collapse.
A public relations firm issued a statement on behalf of 1031 Canal, a corporate entity identified as the developer of the project that lists the Kailas Companies' Chandra Kailas as a principal. The statement said the developer would work with authorities and the contractor to determine what caused the collapse.
Arreola's family said his cell phone was active for days after the collapse. They claim he only died after no one came to rescue him.
Although the cranes used to erect the building have been demolished, the rest of the building still stands and the family has been told it could be five months or more before it comes down and they can properly bury his remains.
They filed suit against several companies involved in the construction seeking an unspecified amount of damages to and to speed up the process by which Arreola's body can be returned to them. NBC Chicago reached out to the companies listed in the suit, but none responded to our requests for comment.
"The body of a young, 62-year-old man is going to be reduced to ashes," Arturo said. "That's all the family is going to get at the end of the day."