Phila. D.A. convenes grand jury over building collapse; more lawsuits being filed

By Jon Campisi | Jun 12, 2013

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has announced that a grand jury would soon

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has announced that a grand jury would soon

be convened to investigate the deadly building collapse that took the lives of six people in Center City last week.

“The scope and depth of the Grand Jury process will allow us to completely and appropriately investigate last Wednesday’s tragedy,” Williams said in a statement.

The prosecutor stressed that due to the secretive nature of grand jury proceedings, his office would have no further comment on the case.

Still, Williams extended his “heartfelt condolences” to the family and friends of those who died after being crushed in the rubble of a building that was in mid-demolition at the corner of 22nd and Market Streets in downtown Philadelphia June 6.

Demolition workers were dismantling the four-story structure at 2136 Market Street when it collapsed on top of the one-story Salvation Army thrift store that sat adjacent to the building.

The thrift store was completely decimated in the incident.

Over the weekend, the District Attorney’s Office charged 42-year-old Sean Benschop with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, as well as 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person and causing and risking a catastrophe.

Benschop, who was operating the excavator at the time of the collapse, was found to have illegal drugs in his system at the time he was engaged in the demolition work, according to news reports.

He is currently being held without bail in county jail pending his scheduled June 26 court appearance.

Benschop has also been named in civil litigation that has been initiated over the deadly incident, which took the lives of Anne Bryan, Roseline Conteh, Borbor Davis, Kimberly Finnegan, Juanita Harmin and Mary Simpson.

Bryan was the daughter of Philadelphia City Treasurer Nancy Winkler.

In his statement, District Attorney Williams also extended his “thoughts and prayers” to the 13 victims who were injured, but not killed, in the devastating building collapse, which made national headlines.

As for the civil litigation, it began on June 6, the same day of the collapse, when Philadelphia lawyer Bob Mongeluzzi, known the country over for his work in construction accident cases, filed a complaint in Common Pleas Court against Richard Basciano, the owner of the collapsed Market Street building; Basciano’s company, STB Investments Corp.; Griffin Campbell Construction, the company contracted to do the demolition work; and the company’s principal, Griffin T. Campbell.

That first lawsuit was filed on behalf of 54-year-old Nadine White, who was working inside the thrift store at the time of the adjacent building collapse.

White, who was injured in the incident, was one of the first people pulled to safety by responding emergency workers, according to news reports and the civil action.

Mongeluzzi, the plaintiffs’ attorney, was quoted in news stories following the incident as saying that the building collapse was the most “egregious construction accident I think I’ve ever been involved in.”

After he filed suit, Mongeluzzi petitioned a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge to order the accident site preserved so it could be inspected by himself and other attorneys who plan to file suit on behalf of victims.

A judge subsequently granted the request.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported over the weekend that Mongeluzzi and others started combing through the rubble during the two-day period in preparation for their respective civil cases.

Meanwhile, another victim plans to file her own lawsuit over the demolition site accident.

Felicia Hill, 36, another thrift store worker, who is also being represented by Mongeluzzi, as well as lawyer Emmett Madden, took to the airwaves this week to announce the pending filing of her civil action, announcing in a news conference reported on by local media that for weeks prior to the collapse, bricks and other debris had been falling on top of the Salvation Army store originating from the adjacent demolition site.

Hill, who reportedly has seven children, was quoted during the press conference as saying that she “ran for her life” the day of the collapse after she realized an entire wall had crushed down on top of her place of employment.

Records at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas show that Mongeluzzi initiated the civil process on behalf of Hill on June 10.

The court docket in Hill’s case shows the same defendants as those listed in the Nadine White complaint would be named in Hill’s suit.

The Hill case was filed as a writ of summons, which is court paperwork signaling pending litigation.

An actual complaint did not yet appear to be filed as of Tuesday.

Other lawsuits are expected to follow.

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