Lawyers representing some of the victims killed and injured by the June 5 building collapse in Philadelphia are calling for a “full and open disclosure of the events” that led to the disaster, alleging that the owners of the buildings and city officials “were on notice of a tragedy waiting to happen [but] did not stop it from occurring.”
Those strong allegations are rooted in a series of paperwork, emails, and other information released by the city following a Philadelphia Inquirer report that contractors removing debris from the collapsed buildings earlier this month found asbestos among the ruins. That discovery raised questions about what preparations were made before the demolition work started.
The collapse occurred in central Philadelphia at a 4-story building housing a hoagie shop on the ground level with apartments on the upper levels. Improper demolition on that building caused it to collapse outward onto an adjacent one-story Salvation Army thrift store, killing six people and injuring 13 others.
City records also show demolition contractor Griffin Campbell had been cited in May for starting demolition inside the site before notifying the city. The same contractor was also cited for dumping asbestos debris into a trash bin at the site, a serious threat to worker and public health. According to the Inquirer, Mr. Campbell told the inspector that somebody had thrown the material into his truck and he in turn disposed of it in the trash.
Records released show that a pledge had been submitted that the building was asbestos free when it actually wasn’t.
The building under demolition was one of three on the block slated to come down, but pre-demolition permits do not provide any detail of how the work was to be performed.
The owner of the building being demolished had asked that a tarp and bucket be installed in the space above the Salvation Army store to catch debris, but no such precautions were in place when the collapse occurred. Emails show that a property manager for the building owner complained that the Salvation Army was not cooperating with requests and permissions needed to guarantee safe demolition, “a situation that poses a threat to life and limb,” the manager said. Yet still the demolition continued.
Six days after the city received a complaint from someone that the demolition work looked unsafe, city building inspector Ronald Wagenhoffer visited the site but did not report any violations. Mr. Wagenhoffer committed suicide a few days after the collapse occurred.
Demolition subcontractor and crane operator Sean Benschop has been charged with involuntary manslaughter for his alleged role in the collapse while impaired, but city records demonstrate that the disaster may be the result of more complex, systemic problems, with blame possibly falling on the shoulders of several individuals, businesses, and city agencies.