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New Records Released in Philly Collapse

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

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Past violations and asbestos problems plagued the site of last month's deadly building collapse in Philadelphia, according to newly released city records.

On June 5, a four-story structure under demolition at 2136 Market Street in Center City collapsed onto an adjacent two-story Salvation Army thrift store, killing six people and injuring 13.

Building Collapse in Philadelphia
RonniePhilly / Twitter

The City of Philadelphia released hundreds of documents relating to the collapse of a downtown structure that killed six and injured 13.

In addition, video footage from a transit bus approaching the building as it collapsed was recently obtained by a local NBC News affiliate. The video shows people fleeing the frightening scene as dust and smoke cover the area.

Charges Against Worker, Inspector Suicide

A crane operator has been charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter and 13 counts of reckless endangerment in relation to the collapse.

A building inspector responsible for inspecting the site killed himself in the week following the collapse. Reports have surfaced indicating that he blamed himself.

Authorities are still investigating the collapse.

Releasing Documents

The city released scores of documents related to the collapse Friday (July 19), more than a month after the incident.

“The collapse of the building at 22nd and Market was the kind of tragedy that should never recur,” City Solicitor Shelley R. Smith said in an announcement posted on the city’s website Monday (July 22).

“Given its magnitude, we of course recognize the public interest in documents pertaining to the events leading up to the collapse, but our responsibility to the citizens always requires that we balance the demand for information with the need to protect the integrity of critical investigations,” she said.

The hundreds of pages of documents released by the city consist of files from the City’s Department of Licenses & Inspections, records from the Department of Health, and e-mail correspondence to and from the building manager, a representative from the Salvation Army and city officials.

Asbestos Violations at Site

The records indicate that the demolition contractor Griffin Campbell Construction had been cited in May for beginning interior demolition before informing the city.

In addition, the contractor was hit with alleged health-code violations after an anonymous tip led inspectors from the Department of Health to asbestos-containing material located in a dumpster onsite.

According to the inspection documents, the business owner, Griffin Campbell, said people had thrown the suspect material into the back of his truck and he dumped it into the trash container.

Building collapse
Typoboy / Wikimedia Commons

Criminal and civil investigations into the June 5 collapse are ongoing.

The inspector advised Campbell to cover the dumpster and hire a licensed asbestos contractor to throw out the entire contents, according to the documents.

As of Monday, the contractor had not commented on the information contained in the documents.

E-Mail Warnings

According to the string of e-mails released, city officials appear to have been notified by the building manager regarding a potentially dangerous situation at the demolition site in May.

A representative for STB Investments Corp., Thomas J. Simmonds Jr. wrote to City Commerce Director Alan Greenberger that the Salvation Army had been unresponsive to requests to gain access to the roof of the thrift store in order to employ methods to protect the store from the demolition activity next door.

He wrote the situation was one that posed “a threat to life and limb.”

STB Investments wanted to install a tarp and plywood over the Salvation Army roof in order to catch debris and to position a bucket truck over the store so workers could demolish inward, according to various reports.

Those protections were not in place when the collapse occurred, reports said.

Greenberger reportedly told The Philadelphia Inquirer, which first reported on the email correspondence last week, that he thought he had received another e-mail saying that the situation had been resolved.

A lawyer representing the thrift store told the newspaper that the parties were still in negotiations at the time of the collapse.  

City Councilman James Kenney told the Associated Press that developers frequently run into delays because of problems negotiating with their neighbors.

"You have to work them out," Kenney said. "They continued to go ahead and do the work, in a slipshod way."

‘Demolition by Hand Only’

On the day of the collapse, Campbell Construction was cited by the Department of Licenses & Inspections for allegedly using mechanical equipment for the demolition.

The contractor had previously been advised to demolish the structure by hand only, according to the document.

A crane operator, Sean Benschop, 42, has been criminally charged in relation to the collapse.

Benschop was alleged to have been operating the heavy machinery at the site while under the influence of drugs.

Inspector Blamed Self

Philadelphia building inspector Ronald Wagenhoffer, 52, killed himself a week after the collapse.

He had inspected a site adjacent to the collapsed building on May 14 and reported no violations.

Building Inspector
NBC 10

A week following the deadly collapse in Philadelphia, Ronald Wagenhoffer, a building inspector responsible for inspecting the site was found to have committed suicide. Authorities have said he did nothing wrong.

Reports say the veteran building inspector left a recorded suicide message for his family blaming himself for the accident.

"It was my fault. I should have been more diligent and looked at those guys working, and I didn’t. When I saw it was too late. I should have parked and went over there but I didn’t. Sorry," Wagenhoffer reportedly said in a video message for his wife, Michele, and their son.

City officials have said that Wagenhoffer did nothing wrong.

“This man did nothing wrong,” Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison told members of the media during a press conference after his death. “The department did what it was supposed to do under the code that existed at the time.”

New regulations regarding demolition activity have since been implemented.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Building codes; Building owners; Construction; Demolition; Fatalities; Health and safety; Inspection; Maintenance + Renovation

Comment from Andrew Piedl, (7/23/2013, 10:59 AM)

The reporting on this collapse continues to be about as careless as the demolition work that killed 6 people. There was no crane at the site at the time of the collapse; it was a back hoe fitted out with a demolition claw (it can be seen in the photo above). The thrift shop next door was a one-story building with a basement (not a 2-story structure). A 'building manager' notified the city in May - a manager for which building? It seems like the 'manager' worked for the building that collapsed. Too bad that plastic tarp was not in place - that would have done a lot of good when the three story high brick wall with no apparent bracing fell over. The only issue that is clear is that the City of Philadelphia did no wrong...

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