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Collapse Toll Rises; Contractor Probed

Friday, June 7, 2013

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The death toll in a Philadelphia building collapse reached six on Thursday (June 6) as the search for survivors continued and questions arose about the contractor who had been demolishing the structure.

The four-story building collapsed Wednesday morning during demolition in downtown Philadelphia.

The building, which toppled onto an adjoining two-story thrift store, was responsible for killing at least six and injuring as many as 14 others in the populated area, according to authorities. One victim was pulled alive from the rubble after 12 hours.

Building Collapse in Philadelphia
RonniePhilly / Twitter

The deadly building collapse occurred around 10:40 a.m. Wednesday in downtown Philadelphia. Officials are not sure how many people were inside the adjoining thrift store when it was crushed.

Almost immediately after the collapse, information began to surface about the demolition contractor in charge of the project, Griffin Campbell Construction; the demolition methods; and the property owner, STB Investments Corp.

'I Knew it was Going to Happen'

The area's neighbors and workers had previously expressed concern about the demolition work.

“For weeks, they’ve been standing on the edge, knocking bricks off, pieces off; you could just see it was ready to go at any time,” Patrick Glynn, a roofer working nearby, told CNN affiliate WPVI.

“I knew it was going to happen. I seen it. I said it 10 times. Ask these guys. Every day, I said, ‘It’s gonna collapse, it’s gonna collapse,’” he said.

An architect who also worked nearby described the demolition work as “sketchy at best. … I knew it wasn’t the highest quality demotion crew,” architect Joseph Sulvetta told

He said it appeared the crews had left a wall unsupported next to the thrift shop, the report said.

Other workers and neighbors told reporters that the building looked dangerous in the days before the collapse. A YouTube video shot three days earlier and posted Wednesday shows workers demolishing the building.

One witness told news reporters that he had seen a crane remove a support beam from the front of the building and then the wall next to the thrift store start to sway. Another witness said a backhoe hit the building's rear about the same time.

More Casualties Possible

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter warned Wednesday night that more fatalities were possible. Nutter told reporters Thursday morning that the rescuers had covered about 75 percent of the site.

“We still do not known how many people were inside the thrift store or possibly on the sidewalk” at the time of the collapse, he said. “If someone else is in the building, they will find them.”

The identities of the deceased have not been released; however, authorities said one man and five women who were in the thrift store were killed.

Collapse Probed

The building, which authorities say once housed an X-rated book and video store, crashed down on top of a Salvation Army thrift shop around 10:40 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Witnesses described the horror as a “big blast” and an “earthquake” and said it sounded like a “freight train” as tons of concrete, brick and wood rained down.

Kevin220 / YouTube

This video posted on YouTube shows demolition occurring at the site on Sunday (June 2), three days before the building collapsed, killing at least six and injuring more than a dozen others.

The cause of the collapse remains under investigation, but officials confirmed that permitted demolition activity was ongoing at the four-story structure.

Architect Plato Marinakos Jr. was listed as the “primary contact” as an expediter for the demolition permits, according to city records. His involvement with the project ended after permits were obtained, according to an NBC News affiliate, citing the architect’s spokesman.

14th Survivor

Just before midnight Thursday, the 14th survivor—61-year-old Myra Plekam—was pulled from the debris more than 12 hours after the collapse, reports said.

Rescuers at site

Rescuers have spent more than 24 hours combing through debris looking for survivors, according to reports.

Officials said Plekam was awake and talked to her rescuers.

"It feels outstanding to be able to pull somebody [out] alive," the city public safety spokesman, Michael Resnick, told reporters.

Valid Permits...

Griffin Campbell Construction, based in Philadelphia, was named as the demolition contractor in city records.

The contractor had valid city permits to demolish six properties, including three owned by STB Investments—the owner of the collapsed building, according to a document released by the city after the collapse.

While no building violations existed at the demolition site, the property information document indicated that the company had open permit violations against other properties being worked on in the city.

One of those violations was for “vacant license and exterior maintenance issues”; another cited “interior renovations without building permits.” Records also show that Campbell owes thousands in unpaid city business taxes as well as state and federal taxes, news outlets reported.

Griffin Campbell does not have a history of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety violations, according to the agency’s database.

However, OSHA officials said they have opened an investigation into the collapse.

...And a Criminal Record

The company’s owner, Griffin T. Campbell, 49, has a criminal record dating to April 2009 for insurance fraud and criminal conspiracy, according to a report on, citing court records.

The contractor was sentenced to four years of probation and required to pay $10,700 in restitution for claiming to be a passenger in a car involved in an auto accident that turned out to be a hoax, the report said.

Campbell also reportedly filed for Chapter 13 (reorganization) bankruptcy in March.

In addition, he owns a property in Philadelphia identified as a site of “extensive drug activity,” according to the report, citing prosecutors. A District Attorney’s office official told the news bureau that Campbell had agreed to sell that property by Spring 2012, but had not done so.

“We are going to start the procedure to forfeit the property, because he did not comply with the agreement he settled,” the prosecutor’s office told

Multiple news reports also identified the crane operator on the demolition project as a convicted felon with legal problems, but his alleged record was not detailed.

'King of Times Square Porn'

STB Investments has owned the building that collapsed since 1994; its principal is Richard Basciano, 87.

According to, Basciano owns many adult-entertainment properties and was once called the “undisputed king of Times Square porn.”

Basciano wanted to redevelop the downtown Philadelphia block where the building was located. The building was once an X-rated book and video store, according to Reuters.

“At this point, like everyone else, we are just trying to get our arms around this terrible tragedy and determine exactly what happened,” Basciano’s attorney has told reporters.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Architects; Building owners; Contractors; Demolition; Fatalities; Health and safety; Maintenance + Renovation

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