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Worker Charged in Deadly Collapse

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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A heavy equipment operator working at the site of last Wednesday’s deadly building collapse in downtown Philadelphia has been arrested on involuntary manslaughter and other charges.

Authorities allege that Sean Benschop, 42, was operating a backhoe at the demolition site while under the influence of drugs. He was taken into custody over the weekend.

Meanwhile, city authorities closed two job sites connected to the contractor in charge and announced plans to revamp oversight for demolition projects citywide in the wake of the collapse that killed six and injured 13.

building collapse
RonniePhily / Twitter

Six people were killed and 13 others injured when a four-story building under demolition in Philadelphia crashed down on an adjoining two-story Salvation Army thrift store on June 5.

Griffin Campbell Construction, of Philadelphia, was demolishing a four-story building, owned by STB Investments Corp., when the structure collapsed, crashing down on an adjoining two-story Salvation Army thrift store with customers and workers inside.

The accident occurred around 10:40 a.m. Wednesday (June 5). A 30-hour search and rescue effort concluded Thursday afternoon.

Authorities identified the deceased victims as: Kimberly Finnegan, Borbor Davis, Juanita Harmin, Mary Simpson, Anne Bryan and Roseline Conteh.

Immediately following the collapse, reports surfaced regarding the troubled pasts of the contractor and equipment operator, alleged unsafe conditions at the project, and the city’s regulation of demolition sites.

Excavating Equipment Worker Arrested

While the cause of the collapse is still under investigation, police say Benschop had marijuana and pain medication in his blood when the accident occurred, according to numerous reports. He was operating a backhoe at the site, reports say.

Sean Beschop
Philadelphia Police / CNN

Sean Beschop, 42, was charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter and other charges stemming from the deadly building collapse. He was operating excavating equipment at the site during the incident, reports say.

Officials issued an arrest warrant Friday night, charging him with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person, and one count of “risking a catastrophe,” officials said.

He surrendered to police Saturday afternoon, reports relate.

Benschop’s attorney, Daine Grey, Jr., told reporters his client was “just a scapegoat” and not responsible for the accident.

Under the Influence?

“I'm saying he was not under the influence at the time of the accident,” Grey told

However, NBC10 also reported that the doctor who examined Benschop after the collapse said the amount of marijuana in the worker’s blood rendered him “unfit to properly and safely perform job related duties.”

Moreover, Benschop admitted to authorities that he had been taking Percocet for a right arm injury he had received at another work site, reports said.

He was wearing the cast when he was operating the backhoe on Wednesday, reports say.

Grey said Benschop was an experienced backhoe operator.

Since 1994, the worker has been found guilty three times for possession of controlled substances, according to reports, citing court documents.

Griffin T. Campbell, 49, the owner of the business in charge of the demolition, also has a criminal record.

He pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and criminal conspiracy in 2009, reports said.

Campbell had a valid contractor license, issued January 2013, but he owed unpaid city, state and federal business taxes, according to reports.

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

Various reports have criticized Basciano, who owns many adult-entrainment properties, for hiring a former criminal to complete the work.

Mayor Comments on Arrest

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter released the following statement Saturday, in light of Benschop’s arrest.

“It is because of [Benschop’s] reckless and irresponsible behavior that six people died and thirteen people were hurt and buried under debris and bricks.”

Mayor Michael Nutter
Wikimedia Commons

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter says justice will be served if Benschop "receives a sentence that buries him in a jailhouse forever, just like his victims were buried."

“It is my hope that the harshest level of charges are brought against Sean Benschop and he is punished accordingly.”

Nutter added: “We must also seek answers from property owners Richard Basciano and Griffin T. Campbell who hired Benschop to do the significant job of operating heavy equipment.

“These three individuals bear the ultimate and sole responsibility for this tragedy. Justice will only be served if Sean Benschop receives a sentence that buries him in a jailhouse forever, just like his victims were buried on Wednesday.”

Safety Probed

The manner in which the doomed downtown building was being torn down was also a common concern among many neighbors and workers in the bustling area.

Many say they had anticipated a tragedy.

“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.

A YouTube video shot three days earlier and posted Wednesday shows workers demolishing the building.

Federal workplace safety officials confirmed that they had opened an investigation after an anonymous caller complained of fall hazards at the site on May 15, but they did not shut the work down.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also launched an investigation after the collapse.

“Prior to that, the company does not have any OSHA history,” according to an OSHA spokeswoman.

The agency does not comment on open investigations.

City Changes Process

Philadelphia authorities said a pre-demolition check at the site on May 14 turned up no issues.

Additionally, officials have said they were not aware of complaints about the site, which had a valid permit, according to reports.

City inspectors were required to conduct a pre-demolition inspection and an additional inspection at the end of the demolition project, according to the authorities.

new standards for demolition

Following the collapse, city officials announced new standards for demolition permit issuance and site inspection.

The process did not require an inspection at any point during demolition.

However, following the tragedy, city officials announced new initiatives for demolition sites and contractors, including new standards for demolition permit issuance and demolition site inspection, new internal audit processes, and recommendations for code and regulatory changes.

Previously, Mayor Nutter stressed that a number of active investigations are under way to “get to the bottom of what happened, how, when and why.”

Other Job Sites Closed for Violations

The collapse further led city officials to initiate a series of inspections at demolition sites throughout America’s fifth largest city.

The Department of Licenses and Inspections said it first focused on construction and demolition sites connected to Griffin Campbell Construction, issuing two Stop Work Orders and suspending work at two of the four jobsites inspected.

The violations at one of the sites related to electrical and plumbing work being performed without proper permits and work not being the same as the work detailed on the building permit. 

Violations at the other site related to work exceeding the scope of the interior demolition permit. 

Officials say there are approximately 300 open demolition permits issued by the Department since 2009—100 of which were issued in 2013. The city said it plans to inspect them all for safety.

At least two of the victims have filed a lawsuit in the case, according to reports.



Tagged categories: Accidents; Building owners; Commercial Construction; Demolition; Fatalities; Government; Health and safety; Maintenance + Renovation; Paint application equipment

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