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Inspector Kills Self after Collapse

Friday, June 14, 2013

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One week after the deadly building collapse in downtown Philadelphia, a city building inspector who examined the site has committed suicide, according to city officials.

Authorities say 52-year-old Ronald Wagenhoffer was found dead Wednesday night (June 12) from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

He is survived by his wife, Michelle, and a son.

A long-time employee for the City’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, Wagenhoffer had inspected the vacant four-story building being demolished three weeks before it collapsed. He was responding to citizen complaints raised by neighbors, but did not shut the work down.

PhilaGov / YouTube

Officials said the inspector Ronald Wagenhoffer, 52, was a dedicated civil servant.

On June 5, the structure toppled onto an adjacent two-story Salvation Army thrift store, killing six people and injuring 13.

What exactly caused the collapse is still under investigation, though a heavy equipment operator faces criminal charges.

City: Inspector Not to Blame

Wagenhoffer, a 16-year veteran with the department, conducted a site inspection alone on May 14, Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety for the city, told reporters during a news conference Thursday.

Gillison added that the inspector “did nothing wrong,” and had not been a target of the criminal investigation into the tragedy.

“The department did what it was supposed to do under the code at the time,” he added. Inspection procedures regarding demolition sites have been changed in the aftermath of the collapse.

Philadelphia collapse
RonniePhily / Twitter

On May 14, Wagenhoffer inspected the demolition work being performed at a downtown building, officials said. On June 5, the building collapsed on top of a adjacent thrift store killing six people and injuring 13 others.

“With the building collapse a week ago, we have now lost seven lives in connection with this tragedy,” Gillison said.

A Hard Worker

The Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams told reporters of Wagenhoffer’s dedication.

“He worked extremely hard before the tragedy and after the tragedy,” Williams said. “We were all shocked. He was an outstanding employee.”

Williams said the inspector was “a dedicated civil servant who loved his job.” He worked until 3 p.m. Wednesday, officials said.

Equipment Operator Charged in Case

While investigations are ongoing, authorities have charged Sean Benschop, 42, an excavator operator working at the site, with involuntary manslaughter and other charges stemming from the deadly collapse.

Police say Benschop was operating heavy equipment under the influence of marijuana and prescription drugs.

Benschop’s lawyer has told reporters that his client was “being made the scapegoat in the situation.”

Griffin Campbell Construction was the demolition contractor in charge of the project; STB Investments Corp. owned the building.  

Officials have suspended work at two other jobsites connected to Griffin Campbell Construction.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Fatalities; Government; Health and safety; Inspection; Maintenance + Renovation

Comment from Joseph Berchenko, (6/14/2013, 10:04 AM)

This is a terrible tragedy. Building inspectors are hard-working, dedicated professionals who deserve the utmost support and respect from the building community, but who, like baseball umpires, instead often find themselves the brunt of unfair derision. It is a difficult job, and my sympathy goes out to his family.

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