Contractors Griffin Campbell and Kary R. Roberts (a.k.a. Sean Benschop) are facing criminal charges ranging from multiple murder and manslaughter charges to risking a catastrophe in the fatal collapse of a Philadelphia building last June that killed six people and injured 14. Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams, who announced the charges, said Campbell was "at the center of culpability for the collapse."
Calling the collapse “tragic and preventable,” Williams added the tragedy “robbed our city of six amazing Philadelphians that perished in the rubble [and] the motive was greed."
The two men were cited by OSHA on Nov. 14 for federal safety violations, including three willful per-instance violations. Campbell Construction was demolishing the four-story building known as the “Hoagie City” building adjacent to the Salvation Army Thrift Store, located at the 2100 block of Market Street in Philadelphia. S&R Contracting was operating the building’s interior walls and floors.
Campbell was indicted by the Philadelphia Grand Jury with six counts of third-degree murder, six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person (REAP), causing catastrophe, risking catastrophe and criminal conspiracy. Although the grand jury investigation of the collapse of the collapse is not over, last week the grand jury voted to issue a presentment against Campbell, recommending his indictment for third-degree murder and related charges.
Campbell turned himself into the police this afternoon and his attorney, William Hobson, said Campbell plans to plead not guilty to the charges. Bail is expected to be set at $1 million.
Roberts currently is in jail awaiting a preliminary hearing for six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of REAP and risking a catastrophe for his role in the deadly collapse. Roberts also is facing an additional charge of criminal conspiracy. Toxicology reports taken at the scene allegedly show that Roberts was under the influence of a controlled substance at the time of the building collapse.
Roberts’ attorney, Daine Grey emphasized that Roberts had nothing to do with the planning of how the building was being demolished. “He showed up to work and the contractor told him what to do," said Grey.
“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,” said Williams. “This arrest is just one step along the 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. ”
Grand Jury Documents Describe Shortcuts
The presentment describes evidence that alleges Campbell decided on the method of demolition and who personally controlled it in the manner that caused the catastrophe. Numerous witnesses, experienced in the field of demolition, testified to the grand jury 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.
According to experts, that demolition method is expensive and time-consuming, and Campbell had agreed to a deadline and a flat-fee contract plus salvage rights to materials recovered from the building. According to the prosecutor’s office, he chose to maximize his profit by first removing all the wooden joists holding up the floors because joists were valuable for resale. Taking the joists out first meant dismantling the building from the inside out, rather than from the top down. That left the exterior walls without sufficient support.
Worse, according to Williams’ office, on the day before the collapse Campbell removed bricks and braces that had provided the minimal remaining support for the west wall. That evening, Campbell was specifically warned by an architect that the largely free-standing west wall immediately had to be addressed. Campbell promised that he would rectify the problem at once, before the next morning, by erecting scaffolding and reducing the west wall by hand down to the one-story roofline of the Salvation Army building next door.
Campbell allegedly called the architect just after 9 a.m. on the morning of the collapse to tell him that the wall had been taken down although it still was standing. The prosecutor’s office also said that Campbell brought in a huge excavating machine, operated by Kary Roberts (a.k.a. Benschop), to extract joists and clear rubble. The heavy machine rumbled within inches of the unsupported external structure.
At 10:41 a.m., the west wall, along with the remaining portions of the southern and eastern walls, collapsed. Much of the tons of debris fell onto the Salvation Army building, crushing it – and those inside it.
The District Attorney’s Office would not comment on whether the grand jury will find evidence of additional wrongdoing by other contractors or people involved with the demolition that would establish proof of criminal offenses.
Pair Facing OSHA Citations
According to OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels, OSHA demolition standards prohibit the removal of lateral support walls more than one-story high. Since the action allegedly taken by Campbell Construction left the wall unsupported for three days, each day resulted in a willful, per-instance citation.
Campbell Construction also allegedly removed parts of the lower floors prior to the removal of the upper floors; again, contrary to the OSHA standards and industry practice. Campbell Construction also allegedly failed to provide an engineering survey as promised.
As a result of these alleged violations of standards, Campbell Construction has been cited for three willful, egregious violations for each day that it left the wall without sufficient lateral support, and two willful violations alleging the failures to demolish the building from the top down and to have an engineering survey by a competent person on the possibility of collapse prior to starting the demolition.
S&R Contracting was cited for one willful violation for allowing wall sections more than one story in height to stand alone without lateral bracing. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
S&R Contracting also was cited for two serious violations for allegedly failing to protect employees from falling through holes and for allegedly failing to provide fall hazard training. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known if an accident were to occur.
OSHA proposed penalties of $313,000 for Campbell Construction and $84,000 for S&R Contracting.
When asked at the time of the OSHA citations if criminal charges were a possibility in the case, Michaels responded, “Whenever there’s a fatality, we begin discussions with the Department of Justice.”
Building owner Richard Basciano has not been charged with any crimes Monday, but the grand jury will continue to hear evidence in the case. Architect Plato Marinakos, who worked for Basciano and secured the demolition permit, agreed to testify before the grand jury if he was granted immunity. Those familiar with the case say it is likely Basciano will face criminal charges and he already is facing civil lawsuits in the case.