Victim’s Attorney: 14-Foot Steel Beam Possibly Used to Demolish Building

Investigators, attorneys, and engineers representing four of the victims suing over the deadly Center City Building collapse performed an official inspection of the site Sunday.

Bob Mongeluzzi, an attorney representing three of the victims, tells that he believes that a 14-foot beam was used to demolish the four-story building and not to support the wall. Mongeluzzi says authorities found the beam inside the backhoe.

“It is my understanding from sources that the police took the steel beam and the excavator into custody,” said Mongeluzzi. “We are going to make arrangements to go out and see the steel beam and gather information.”

Mongeluzzi also says a backhoe should have never been used to demolish the building which was built before the 1950’s.
“The project should have been demolished by hand. You had a four-story wall which would have been 40-feet high. We do not yet have the measurements of the backhoe but it appears to be a 23-foot stick. That means that the backhoe arm would not be able to go above the wall to be able to pull it down,” said Bob Mongeluzzi.

Larry Bendesky, the attorney for the family of Nadine White, one of 13 injured in the collapse, says that the officials received an emergency protective order Friday. According to Bendesky, the investigators were permitted by court order to enter the site at 22nd and Market and carry out the inspection. Bendesky also says that at this point it’s too early to tell how culpable the city of Philadelphia is in the accident.

“Our experts will look for evidence of anything that will give them an idea of exactly how this happened,” said Larry Bendesky.

Bendesky is part of the same Philadelphia construction accident firm that investigated and won settlements in the Ride the Ducks tour boat crash and Pier 34 collapse.

“The city has to tell us exactly where they brought the debris and give us the opportunity to look at debris that’s been removed off site up to this point,” said Bendesky.

A fifth lawsuit may be in the works. The family of Juanita Harmon says they plan to hire an attorney. The 75-year-old mother of four had just paid a utility bill around 10:30 a.m. and decided to stop by the thrift store as she often did, according to her son. She was killed in the collapse.

The backhoe operator who was working at the building the day of the crash surrendered to police Saturday afternoon. Sean Benschop, 43, is charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter as well as 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person, causing a catastrophe and risking a catastrophe.

Sources tell NBC10 that Benschop had marijuana and prescription painkillers in his blood two hours after the outer wall of 2136 Market Street tumbled down onto the Salvation Army Thrift Shop Wednesday morning.

Benschop was operating the backhoe for demolition contractor Griffin Campbell Construction.
Construction company owner Griffin Campbell had a valid contractor license, issued this January, but owed thousands of dollars in unpaid city, state and federal business taxes.

Campbell, 49, also has a criminal history – having pleaded guilty to theft and insurance fraud charges in 2009.

Construction workers and everyday citizens called Griffin Campbell Construction’s demolition practices at the site into question prior to and following the collapse.

A month before the collapse, Stephen Field told the City of Philadelphia’s Philly311 customer service center about a lack of safety gear being used by workers as they hacked away at the brick building. He also voiced his concern that pedestrians could be hit by falling debris or that a complete collapse could happen.

City officials said they sent out a building inspector to an adjacent work site at 2134 Market Street after being provided with that site’s address. They say the inspector found no violations. Officials also said demolition work had not begun at the site of Wednesday’s collapse and that the demolition project was never inspected.

Field disputed that claim, saying there was “no doubt” both buildings were being demolished at the same time. City officials have not responded to Field’s dispute.

A construction worker, who witnessed the collapse, claims there was no lateral bracing to support the wall of the building as the demolition took place.

“We were working across the street,” said Dan Gillis. “The guy on the crane, you could see him grab a piece of steel pulling on it. The wall had no bracing, no blocking, nothing. It was just kind of 30 to 40 feet in the air. They started pulling on the steel and the wall was swaying back and forth. Eventually it just went over.”

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