Twenty-two victims, including the families of seven people killed when a building under
demolition collapsed into a neighboring Salvation Army store on Market Street in Philadelphia, have combined their personal injury and wrongful death suits into a single case filed at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
The complaint points to 25 different defendants that allegedly contributed to the series of events that led to the tragic incident in June 2013, including the business developer who ordered the demolition, the architect and contractor leading the project and the Salvation Army for keeping the secondhand store open for business and endangering customers.
According to the suit, the circumstances surrounding the building collapse began in 1994, when the owner of STB Investments Corp. – Richard Basciano – began buying up properties between 21st and 23rd on Market that were mostly rundown and unmanaged sites.
When the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood began expanding, Basciano saw an opportunity to redevelop the properties and increase their value. He started buying up more real estate, but the Salvation Army refused to sell in 2012. The suit says that an architect, Plato Marinakos, also named in the suit, warned Basciano of several structural issues at the Salvation Army building, including a leaky roof and damaged brick faces along the sidewalk.
In early 2013, Basciano accepted the lowest bid for the demolition of the neighboring apartment complex, submitted by Campbell at $112,000, significantly less than the next four bids that ranged between $300,000 and $500,000. The suit says that Basciano should have been alarmed at the large discrepancy and rejected Campbell’s offer.
“STB and Basciano elected to do the job on the cheap, and the customers and employees of the Salvation Army paid the price,” the complaint says.
According to the complaint, despite retaining an architect to analyze the Salvation Army’s structural integrity in order to gain some leverage to force a sale, Basciano and STB never had a location survey performed, as required by federal law.
The complaint provides copies of e-mail communications between the operators of the Salvation Army store and the demolition contractors and architect, illustrating that all parties were well-aware of the structural problems that existed with the shared wall between the sites. The claim accuses all parties of disregarding the dangers and placing the victims into harm's way.
During the actual demolition, the crews failed to follow more sound practices, such as dismantling from the top to the bottom of the structure and securing a lateral support on the Salvation Army's roof that would secure the wall.
On the morning of the collapse, the complaint says, Basciano and his wife, Lois, were on the demolition site to discuss the progress with contractor Griffin Campbell as excavator operator Sean Benschop clawed at the building's facade. The collapse occurred at approximately 10:41 a.m., but the Bascianos left the site during the aftermath.
The plaintiffs hold all defendants liable for the deaths and injuries that resulted from the collapse, but only Campbell and Benschop face criminal charges from Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. They have been charged with six counts of third-degree murder each and face mandatory sentences of life in prison if convicted on more than one of the counts. Both are being held without bail awaiting trial.