The family of a woman killed when a Philadelphia building undergoing demolition collapsed on top of a Salvation Army thrift store has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of the collapsed buildings and those who were involved in the demolition. The lawsuit is the second wrongful death complaint to be filed in connection with the June 5 disaster, which killed six people and injured 13 others, some critically.
Roseline Conteh, a mother of eight children who moved to Philadelphia from Sierra Leone, was shopping at the Salvation Army thrift store when the adjacent apartment building collapsed on top of it, killing her, other shoppers, and store employees.
Her son Aiah Gbessay filed the lawsuit against the owner of the building that collapsed on top of the store, the Salvation Army, the contractor hired to manage the demolition, the operator of a crane implicated in the disaster, an architect who supervised the project and secured demolition permits, and other parties.
“This claim is brought because the defendants could, and should, have acted to prevent a result they actually predicted,” Mr. Gbessay’s complaint states. “This wrongful death and survival action is brought because on June 5, those avoidable headlines were written.”
The lawsuit alleges that the Salvation Army and Richard Basciano, owner of STB Investments Corp. and the property being demolished, knew about the risks of the demolition but failed to take the proper precautions. To support that claim, the lawsuit details a series of letters and emails between Mr. Basciano’s representatives exchanged with the Salvation Army when seeking its cooperation with the demolition plan. Those communications, the lawsuit claims, show that both parties were aware of the dangers the demolition presented.
The lawsuit also accuses Mr. Basciano of hiring the lowest bidding contractor for the job – Griffin Campbell – even though his bid was three times lower than the second-lowest bid. Mr. Campbell is also named as a defendant in the complaint.
Mr. Gbessay’s complaint also asserts that Mr. Basciano, STB, Mr. Campbell, and architect Plato Marinakos lied on city building permits about the cost of the demolition work in an effort to save money by listing the estimated cost at $10,000 – less than one-thirtieth the second-lowest demolition bid.
Those involved in the building’s demolition also failed to take the building down from the top to the bottom and allowed walls to stand without lateral bracing, violations of U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.
Crane operator Sean Benschop is also named as a defendant in Mr. Gbessay’s suit. Mr. Benschop is being held on $1.6 million bail for charges on involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and risking and causing a catastrophe.
The first wrongful death suit to be filed in connection with the building collapse was brought by the family of Mary Lea Simpson, a 24-year-old woman who was killed while she was shopping in the thrift store.
Twelve personal-injury lawsuits have also have filed by those injured in the demolition disaster. Eleven of those have been stayed after Mr. Campbell, also facing criminal charges, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights. The other suit, filed by Mariya Plekan, remains active because the plaintiff suffers from debilitating injuries as a result of the building collapse and claims she is close to death.