Demolition contractor on Phila. building collapse charged with murder

By Jon Campisi | Nov 26, 2013

Prosecutors have leveled third degree murder charges against Griffin

Campbell, the demolition contractor who played a role in the deadly Center City, Philadelphia building collapse in early June.

The office of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced this week that Campbell, 49, would be charged with six counts of third degree murder, six counts of involuntary manslaughter, and 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person, causing a catastrophe, risking a catastrophe and criminal conspiracy.

Six people died and 13 others were injured, some severely, following the collapse at 22nd and Market Streets on June 5.

The only other person who had previously been criminally charged in the case was Sean Benschop, also known as Kary P. Roberts, who was working with Campbell on the building demolition project.

Benschop faces charges including criminal conspiracy, involuntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person, and risking a catastrophe.

A grand jury continues to investigate the circumstances of the collapse, which occurred in the middle of a busy weekday in bustling downtown Philadelphia.

Just last week, the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced civil citations against Campbell and Benshop.

OSHA is seeking to fine Campbell $313,000 for safety violations while $84,000 in fines are being proposed against Benshop’s firm, S&R Contracting.

The District Attorney’s Office said Campbell was expected to turn himself in to Philadelphia detectives on Monday afternoon.

“I hope Griffin Campbell’s arrest today will give the victims and their families some small sense of relief, though I know their pain will never go away,” Williams, the prosecutor, said in a statement. “This arrest is just one step along he road to justice. There is more work to be done, and I would like to thank the Grand Jury as it continues the difficult investigation into this tragic collapse.”

Williams said the grand jury’s presentment places sole culpability for the collapse on Campbell, who was allegedly too cheap to carry out the demolition project in the appropriate manner.

“It was Campbell who decided on the method of demolition and who personally controlled it in the manner that caused the catastrophe,” reads a news release from Williams’ office. “Numerous witnesses, experienced in the field of demolition, have testified that there was one appropriate way to demolish a building of this type in this location: the building should have been taken down by hand, piece by piece, floor by floor.”

The tragedy occurred after an unsupported wall from the structure being demolished collapsed onto the roof of an adjacent Salvation Army thrift shop.

Williams’ office said Campbell, realizing the expense involved in the proper method of demolition, opted instead for a flat-fee contract that provided a deadline for the work to be done, choosing to “maximize his profit by first removing all the wooden joists holding up the floors.”

The joists, according to the D.A.’s Office, were valuable for resale.

Taking the joists out first, however, meant Campbell would have to dismantle the building from the inside out, rather from the top down, something that left the exterior walls without adequate support.

Scaffolding or other bracing could have helped avert the catastrophe, by keeping the exterior walls standing long enough to take them apart damage free, but Campbell never properly braced the walls, Williams’ office stated.

Campbell was even warned by an architect that the exterior wall situation needed to be immediately addressed, but the contractor was not willing to pay for enough labor to handle the task, according to the prosecutor’s office.

An excavating machine that was operated by Benschop, and had been brought in to extract the joists and clear rubble on the scene, ended up causing the exterior wall to tumble onto the top of the adjacent thrift store, which was filled with customers and employees at the time.

Both Campbell and Benschop have been named in numerous lawsuits arising out of the catastrophe.

All civil litigation has since been stayed by a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge.

Williams’ office said the grand jury is continuing to investigate the collapse, and it is unsure whether or not anyone else would be criminally charged in connection with the incident.

The grand jury, the prosecutor’s office stated, would not be commenting on the pending lawsuits in the case, because they “involve different legal standards and a much lower standard of proof, and they are outside the scope of the grand jury’s duties.

“The office can say, however, that the Grand Jury may – as it is their sole discretion and power – choose to issue a report in the future detailing its findings and may address policy implications,” the office’s news release stated.

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