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Contractor Faces 6 Murder Charges

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

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The contractor in charge of a building demolition project that ended up killing six people in Philadelphia has been charged with murder, according to prosecutors.

Demolition contractor Griffin Campbell, 49, has been charged with six counts of third-degree murder and six counts of involuntary manslaughter for his role in the deadly June 5 building collapse, which also injured 13 people, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office announced Monday (Nov. 25).

Griffin Campbell

Contractor Griffin Campbell, 49, has been charged with six counts of third-degree murder and related charges in the wake of the June 5 building collapse in Philadelphia.

The structure being demolished collapsed onto the Salvation Army Thrift Store next door, killing Anne Bryan, 52; Roseline Conteh, 52; Borbor Davis, 68; Kimberly Finnegan, 35; Juanita Harmin and Mary Simpson, 24.

The prosecutor’s office also charged Campbell with 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person, causing catastrophe, risking catastrophe, and criminal conspiracy.

Earlier this month, federal safety authorities cited the contractor with 13 safety violations, carrying $313,000 in proposed penalties, in the case.

The criminal charges against Campbell could put him in prison for life, according to the district attorney. He surrendered to authorities Monday afternoon.

'One Step to Justice'

“I hope Griffin Campbell’s arrest today will give the victims and their families some small sense of relief, though I know their pain will never go away,” District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement.

“This arrest is just one step along the road to justice. There is more work to be done, and I would like to thank the Grand Jury as it continues the difficult investigation into this tragic collapse.”

Seth Williams

Campbell's arrest is "one step along the road to justice," says Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. The grand jury's investigation is not over.

Others could be charged in the collapse, Williams said.

In addition, authorities added a criminal conspiracy charge against the heavy-equipment operator at the site. Kary R. Roberts (a.k.a. Sean Benschop), 42, is currently in custody awaiting a preliminary hearing on six counts of involuntary manslaughter and 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person and risking a catastrophe, prosecutors said.

‘Center of Culpability’

Evidence in the case places Campbell at the “center of culpability for the collapse,” the district attorney said, citing the grand jury presentment.

Campbell “decided on the method of demolition” of the building owned by Richard Basciano and STB Investments and “personally controlled it in the manner that caused the catastrophe,” prosecutors say.

Numerous demolition expert witnesses testified that there was only one appropriate way to demolish a building of this type in this location: The building should have been taken down by hand, piece by piece, floor by floor, according to prosecutors.

However, that method of demolition method is expensive and time-consuming, and Campbell had agreed to a deadline and a flat-fee contract plus salvage rights to materials recovered from the building, the authorities said.

Thus, he chose to maximize his profit by first removing all the wooden joists holding up the floors, according to the presentment. The joists were valuable for resale.

Prosecutors say this decision left the exterior walls without sufficient support because the building was dismantled from the inside out, rather than top down.

Avoiding Tragedy, Architect Warning

“It is possible that, with appropriate safeguards, Campbell might still have avoided the tragedy despite his failure to employ the appropriate demolition method,” the district attorney’s office reported.

“Scaffolding or other bracing might have kept the exterior walls standing long enough to take them apart without a collapse.”

However, on June 4 (the day before the collapse), Campbell removed bricks and braces that had provided the minimal remaining support for the west wall, the prosecutors said.


Prosecutors say that scaffolding or other bracing might have allowed the walls to stand long enough to take them apart before the collapse.

On that evening, evidence indicated that an architect warned Campbell that the largely free-standing west wall had to be addressed immediately. The identity of the architect was not immediately available Tuesday (Nov. 26) morning.

“Campbell promised that he would rectify the problem at once, before the next morning, by erecting scaffolding and reducing the west wall by hand down to the one-story roofline of the Salvation Army building next door,” authorities said.

Looming Wall Falls

However, Campbell did not erect scaffolding or reduce the west wall. Instead, he called the architect just after 9 a.m. on June 5 to tell him the west wall had been taken down, when most of the wall still loomed over the job site and the Salvation Army building, the prosecutors allege.

Campbell also brought in a heavy machine, operated by Roberts (a.k.a. Benschop), to extract joists and clear rubble that morning, the authorities said. The machine rumbled within inches of the unsupported external structure.

building collapse
@RonniePhilly / Twitter

Just before 11 a.m. June 5, the four-story building under demolition collapsed onto an occupied Salvation Army Thrift Store next door, killing six people and injuring 13 others.

At 10:41 a.m., the west wall collapsed, along with the rest of the southern and eastern walls, according to the presentment. Tons of debris fell onto the Salvation Army building, crushing it—and those inside.

One survivor, pinned in the wreckage for 12 hours, lost both legs in the collapse. Mariya Plekan was released from the hospital Nov. 13.

A security camera in a bus captured the tragic scene as it was driving by the stretch of businesses.

Defense: 'Not Responsible’

According to reports following the collapse, Campbell’s attorney Kenneth Edelin said Campbell, who was onsite that morning, had ordered the heavy equipment to remove debris only.

He said that his client had not given permission to use the excavator on the building.

“He is absolutely not responsible,” Edelin told a Philadelphia NBC affiliate, adding that local and federal demolition guidelines during the project had been followed.

Campbell has also been named in civil suits filed by the victims’ families.


Tagged categories: Building materials; Construction; Criminal acts; Demolition; Ethics; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; Paint application equipment

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