Philadelphia Building Collapse Prompts Safety Hearing

Washington, D.C. (Law Firm Newswire) July 19, 2013 — The Philadelphia City Council held a hearing on safety policies in the wake of a building collapse that killed six people.

The accident occurred on the morning of June 5, 2013, at the intersection of 22nd and Market Streets. As a building was being demolished, it unexpectedly collapsed, sending debris through the roof of a neighboring Salvation Army thrift store, which was open for business at the time.

“The demolition of a building is a potentially hazardous process that can endanger anyone in the area if not done properly,” said Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyer David Lietz. “Municipal governments and private contractors must enact and follow strict standards to ensure public safety.”

At the hearing, council members questioned Everett Gillison, Mayor Michael Nutter’s chief of staff, and Licenses and Inspections (L&I) Commissioner Carlton Williams. They asked how the city regulates public demolition projects versus private ones, such as the June 5 job. Williams said that while the city is closely involved in making sure safety standards are met during demolitions on city-owned property, that responsibility falls to the contractor for private projects.

In the wake of the accident, Mayor Nutter announced a major overhaul of the regulations covering demolitions. The new rules will include stricter inspections and require contractors to show proof of experience in demolitions before they receive a permit.

A toxicology text on a construction worker operating an excavator at the time of the accident showed that he had smoked marijuana. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter. Several investigations, including a criminal grand jury, are proceeding, with the contractor, the building owner, and city agencies all coming under scrutiny.

Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz also testified at the hearing, saying he has requested more L&I inspectors for years because he is concerned that current staffing levels do not allow them to adequately enforce codes.

Records show the site was inspected on February 12 before work began and again after work was underway, on February 25. On May 14, inspector Ronald Wagenhoffer visited the site again in response to a citizen complaint, but found no violations.

The day after the hearing, events took another tragic turn when Wagenhoffer, 52, was found dead in his car with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Although he did not face any allegations of wrongdoing in his inspections, Gillison said that was having trouble coming to terms with the accident.

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