Longtime Kansas City journalist Rick Alm, a key member of the reporting team that helped The Kansas City Star and its sister paper, The Kansas City Times, win a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the 1981 Hyatt Regency skywalks disaster, died last week in Hutchinson, Kan.
He was 68.
For three decades, Alm worked at the The Star as a reporter, editor and columnist. Many of those years were spent in the Wyandotte County bureau, where his dogged watchdog reporting exposed the inner workings of local government.
He later moved to the business news desk, where he covered the casino gambling industry with equal tenacity.
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On July 17, 1981, Alm was among the first reporters to reach the Hyatt Regency — since renamed the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center — after two walkways collapsed onto a tea dance in the hotel atrium. The structural failure killed 114 and injured more than 200, many seriously.
With the aid of a structural engineer hired by the newspaper to review the building’s blueprints, Alm and reporter Tom Watts wrote a story four days later that identified the likely cause of the collapse. A design change had doubled the load on the rods supporting the walkways.
The National Bureau of Standards came to the same conclusion in its report issued 22 months later, saying the rods were barely sufficient to support empty walkways, let alone when crowded with people. In terms of loss of life and injuries, the bureau termed it “the most devastating structural collapse ever to take place in the United States.”
Alm was preceded in death by his wife of 34 years, Melanie Alm, who died shortly after they moved to Hutchinson from Blue Springs in 2014. He is survived by four children and 10 grandchildren.
Born Raymond Rickey Alm in Oak Lawn, Ill., he asked that there be no funeral. Former colleagues plan to toast his memory Friday at a tavern in Kansas City, Kan.