Feds Drop First Hammer in Building Collapse

FIVE MONTHS after a botched demolition job in Center City killed six people and injured 14 more, the survivors and the victims’ families have finally gotten their first taste of justice in the long line of legal proceedings that began after the tragedy.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration yesterday fined the contractor and excavator operator a combined $397,000 for their roles in the June 5 incident that shook the city and made international headlines.

“We should not be here today,” said David Michaels, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor. “If the two employers that OSHA has cited today had followed very basic and obvious safety precautions, six people who were killed on June 5, 2013, would be alive today.”

Michaels said general contractor Griffin Campbell and excavator operator Sean Benschop showed “willful disregard for safety standards and to the lives of workers.” Their cases have been referred to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.

“This tragic incident could and should have been prevented,” Michaels said.

The incident occurred when a wall from a building being demolished fell onto the roof of an adjacent Salvation Army thrift store, at 22nd and Market streets, and crushed those inside.

Of the fines, $313,000 are for Campbell, who was cited for using a dangerous method for taking the building apart, failing to produce an engineering survey before the demolition, and many other violations of federal rules.

Kenneth Edelin, an attorney representing Campbell, said his client would appeal the citations and fines in federal court, arguing that his due-process rights were violated because Campbell could not testify in the OSHA probe while there was an open grand-jury investigation into the incident.

“OSHA is basing their alleged violations without having conducted a factual, due-process investigation with participants involved,” Edelin said. “Griffin Campbell Construction continued in a safe manner to remove the building. . . . What went wrong? It was an unfortunate accident.”

Benschop, who has been charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter and is in prison awaiting trial, received an $84,000 fine from OSHA and was cited for creating a situation in which there was a three-story wall standing at the site with no support.

A lawyer for Benschop did not return a request for comment.

The Salvation Army and Richard Basciano, owner of the demolished building, were not cited yesterday. OSHA officials said additional investigations related to the collapse are ongoing but declined to say who was being probed.

Meanwhile, other court cases and investigations resulting from the tragedy continue:

* A grand-jury investigation has been opened and could lead to charges against a number of the involved parties.

* A slew of lawsuits have been filed by the victims and the families of those who died against Campbell, Benschop, Basciano, the Salvation Army and others.

* Mayor Nutter two weeks ago appointed a blue-ribbon commission to examine the Department of Licenses & Inspections, which took heat after the incident because the demolition job was approved by the city. L&I employee Ronald Wagenhoffer, who had inspected the site, killed himself days after the collapse.

* City Council convened a special investigatory committee to revamp the city’s demolition regulations and is wading through its proposals now.

Robert Mongeluzzi, a lawyer representing six survivors and the estates of two of the victims, said the OSHA decision confirmed what he already knew.

“The building was in blatant, flagrant, open and obvious violation of federal laws,” he said.

OSHA officials also announced yesterday that they are in the planning stages of a new partnership with L&I that would be the first of its kind in the country.

The program will enable cross-training between the agencies and establish a centralized referral system to track inspections and complaints about properties in the city, said OSHA spokeswoman Leni Uddyback-Fortson.

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