Officials in Philadelphia announced sweeping changes to the city’s demolition standards Friday as the first lawsuit was filed in the four-story building collapse that left six people dead.
In a televised news conference, Mayor Michael Nutter announced proposals for new demolition standards and controls prompted by the disaster.
“These proposals are sweeping in nature but they are not the end of our reform efforts, but rather just the beginning,” he said.
He apologized to those who survived the disaster and to the families of those killed. In addition to the six dead, including one woman working her first day at the store, 14 people were injured.
“We can do much better, and will,” Nutter said of the new safeguards.
The proposals involve holding private developments, property owners and contractors to the same standards as public projects. That includes making sure private contractors meet qualifications through a new permit application process, Nutter said.
The city's Department of Licenses and Inspections is currently inspecting every site with an open demolition permit and will complete the process next week.
The spot inspections included all four sites connected to Griffin Campbell, the demolition contractor involved in Wednesday's collapse. The city found violations at two of those sites and ordered a halt to work there, the Associated Press reported.
An attempt was made by the Los Angeles Times to reach Campbell, but there was no answer and his voice mailbox was full.
Nutter also said he had asked Pennsylvania Atty. Gen. Amy Kurland to conduct an internal investigation into the collapse. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also investigating, as are the Philadelphia Police Department and the city fire marshal.
A lawsuit filed late Thursday against Griffin Campbell and building owner Richard Basciano gained a second plaintiff Friday, and more filings are expected to come next week, lawyers said.
Nadine White, a 54-year-old mother of three adult children, was sorting clothes in the Salvation Army when a wall collapsed on her. She was buried in the rubble for about 15 minutes before first responders pulled her out, her attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
“She’s pretty banged up,” he said, adding that White suffered back and neck injuries, as well as psychological trauma.
A second plaintiff, Linda Bell, joined White's lawsuit. Bell, a 50-year-old mother of three, was a regular shopper at the store, attorney Joseph Marrone told The Times.
Mongeluzzi said Campbell was an inexperienced contractor who failed to follow safety regulations, and Basciano was concerned more about keeping the costs low than about safety.
“This was a grossly reckless, unplanned act which I think is likely to be criminal,” Mongeluzzi said.
Basciano’s attorney, Peter Greiner, did not return a call seeking comment.
Campbell listed $221,000 in liabilities when he filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in March, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, citing court records. He also pleaded guilty to filing a false insurance claim in 2009, but reached a plea agreement with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and was placed on probation for four years and ordered to pay $10,700 in restitution.
Nutter's press secretary, Mark McDonald, said Campbell had met requirements for demolition contractors, who are required to show proof of insurance and pay $300 for their permits, the newspaper said. According to McDonald, there were no criminal background checks required, and Campbell's insurance-fraud conviction was irrelevant to Wednesday's collapse.
Campbell's daughter, Dominique Lee, told the Associated Press that her father was "mourning the loss of those people just like everyone else."
A judge gave defense lawyers permission Friday to bring in teams of experts to videotape and photograph as the city continues the demolition. Lawyers also asked that the city preserve parts of the structure not deemed a threat to public safety for inspection.
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