The collapse of a four-story building and adjacent thrift store in Philadelphia that killed six people and injured 13 others on Friday, June 5, has ignited a grand jury investigation of city regulations and protocols across a number of municipal agencies and departments, the Associated Press reported Monday.
“The scope and depth of the Grand Jury process will allow us to completely and appropriately investigate last Wednesday’s tragedy,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams in a statement.
In the same release, Mr. Williams expressed his “heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Anne Bryan, Roseline Conteh, Borbor Davis, Kimberly Finnegan, Juanita Harmin and Mary Simpson,” the six people killed when a building housing a hoagie shop and apartments gave way and crushed the adjoining Goodwill Thrift Store. Two of them were employees of the store and four were customers shopping when the building was flattened.
“The tragic circumstances of last week have robbed the city of six amazing Philadelphians,” Mr. Williams said. Over the past few days we have learned about how Anne, Roseline, Borbor, Kimberly, Juanita and Mary touched so lives on a daily basis and the city is truly a little bit darker today now that they are gone.”
The AP reported that a heavy equipment operator Sean Benschop, an employee of contractor Griffin Campbell, who was hired to demolish the four-story building, faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of reckless endangerment, and one count of risking a catastrophe. He is being held without bail pending a hearing on June 26.
“While some may be held responsible in civil court, the role of the grand jury will be to hear from witnesses, to gather documents, to gather information and to then determine if anyone (else) should be held criminally responsible,” Mr. Williams told the AP.
The AP also reported that Philadelphia has a history of unsafe construction that prioritizes cost at the expense of safety.
“There is an underground economy that’s grown up as a result of the issue relative to the cost of construction,” said Philadelphia councilman Jim Kenney. “The cost of the construction should not trump safety.”
Mr. Kenney told the AP that the city needed “better coordination between the building inspectors and the revenue department,” which could help “track down these unscrupulous and unlicensed and non-tax-paying entities.”
One person who survived the collapse, identified by the AP as Felicia Hill, has filed a civil lawsuit. More lawsuits are expected to be filed in the coming days and weeks. Two of the 13 injured people remain in the hospital with serious injuries.
Pictured above, a Google Earth image shows the affected buildings prior to the disastrous collapse.