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Cause of deadly Philly collapse sought; suit filed

Posted: June 7, 2013 9:00 a.m.
Updated: June 7, 2013 9:00 a.m.
 

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The search for victims of a building collapse that killed six people wound down Thursday, and the first civil lawsuit was filed amid mounting questions about whether the demolition company that was tearing down the structure caused the tragedy by cutting corners.

The four-story building along Philadelphia's busy Market Street collapsed Wednesday onto a Salvation Army thrift shop next door with a loud boom and a huge cloud of dust, trapping employees and others, including a woman on her first day on the job at the store.

A lawsuit filed late Thursday seeks financial damages on behalf of Nadine White, who was buried in rubble but survived.

"This is the most egregious construction accident I think I've ever been involved in," said White's attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, who specializes in construction accidents.

He said demolition contractor Griffin Campbell violated federal safety regulations and showed blatant disregard for human life, while building owner Richard Basciano should have picked a more qualified and competent contractor to do the work.

"From what we can understand, given (Campbell's) checkered past, and what appears to be a total lack of experience and know-how, we believe that was a grossly negligent selection," he said.

Messages left for Basciano and his local agent after business hours were not immediately returned. Campbell's voicemail was full, but his daughter said earlier in the day that he was devastated by what happened.

The city, meanwhile, began inspecting hundreds of demolition sites in the wake of the collapse. The Department of Licenses and Inspections said it had 300 open demolition permits throughout the city; inspectors had visited about 30 of the sites by Thursday afternoon and planned to get to the rest by next week.

The spot inspections included all four construction and demolition sites connected to Campbell. The city found violations at two sites and ordered a halt to the work.

There also were indications Thursday that a criminal investigation of the collapse is under way, with the chief of the district attorney's homicide unit and a veteran homicide prosecutor spotted at the scene.

Campbell has been arrested on charges involving drugs, assault and insurance fraud and has had two bankruptcy filings. His daughter, Dominique Lee, who answered the door at his home, said he wasn't there but was "mourning the loss of those people just like everyone else."

As details of Campbell's checkered legal and financial past came to light, a city councilman charged that dangerous, under-the-radar tear-downs are taking place throughout the city and demanded a stricter application and inspection process for demolition companies.

More than 24 hours after the collapse, the search for the dead and injured was complete, with no one else believed to be in the rubble. Firefighters hosed down piles of bricks to reduce the dust, and heavy machinery scooped up debris.

Rescue efforts were buoyed early Thursday when a woman was pulled out alive after 13 hours under the rubble. Nyra Plekam was hospitalized and was said to be floating in and out of consciousness. At least 12 others were hurt, many with minor injuries, and five remained hospitalized.

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