Family of Market Street building collapse victim files wrongful death suit

By Jim Boyle | Jul 30, 2014

The family of a man who died three weeks after getting caught in the Market Street

building collapse in 2013 has filed a wrongful death suit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against the company in charge of the demolition and the managers of the store where the victim was when the tragedy occurred.

Danny Johnson, 59, was one of 19 people inside the Salvation Army store at the corner of 22nd and Market Street when an adjacent apartment building under demolition collapsed onto the store, killing six instantly. Johnson was trapped under debris for approximately one hour before rescue workers pulled him free.

According to the complaint, Johnson experienced chest pains while trapped, and was in and out of the hospital for the next three weeks with heart and asthma complications. He died on June 28, 2013 as result of those injuries, the suit alleges. Johnson's estate, managed by his widow, Bonnie, holds the owner of the apartment complex, New York-based STB Investments Corp., the project contractor, Griffin Campbell, demolition contractor Sean Benschop, and the Salvation Army responsible for her husband's death.

The suit accuses the property owners and project contractors of negligence by cutting corners on the demolition to save money. It also says that Salvation Army management chose not to close the building during the demolition process, endangering its employees and 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 court documents filed by Johnson's attorneys at Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky contain e-mail communications between representatives from STB and the Salvation Army, discussing methods to safely remove the apartment building. The suit says that the conversations show that the managers at the Salvation Army were aware of the dangers from the demolition, yet remained open and endangered lives.

The plaintiffs are represented by Jeffrey Goodman.

The case ID number is 140702440.


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