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Philadelphia contractor charged with murder in building collapse

A building contractor was charged with six counts of murder in connection with a demolition that caused the structure to collapse onto a thrift store in Philadelphia in June, officials said Monday.

Griffin Campbell, 49, was overseeing the demolition work at a four-story brick building in downtown Philadelphia when it collapsed on a next-door Salvation Army store and killed six people inside, officials said.

"Numerous [grand jury] witnesses, experienced in the field of demolition, have testified that there was one appropriate way to demolish a building of this type in this location: The building should have been taken down by hand, piece by piece, floor by floor," the Philadelphia district attorney's office said in a statement.

Instead, prosecutors said, Campbell was trying to maximize his profits, including pulling out wooden joists for resale; he tore the building down from the inside out, in other words, rather than from top to bottom.

"The tragic and preventable collapse ... robbed our city of six amazing Philadelphians that perished in the rubble and left an additional 13 wounded," Philadelphia Dist. Atty. Seth Williams said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press. "The motive was greed."

According to a grand jury presentment obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer, one construction worker testified that he refused to help Campbell with the demolition after seeing how the building was being torn down.

"I told him, you know, this isn't really being done the right way. It should have been started at the top, not at the bottom," the unidentified witness said, according to the grand jury indictment. "And I was basically told, 'I know what I'm doing.' "

Campbell's construction company had agreed to conduct a series of demolitions for $112,000 for STB Investments Corp., a deal that gave him salvage rights but also carried a flat fee and a deadline that gave him more incentive to do the work cheaply. The grand jury indictment also said Campbell had been able to sell the wooden joists he'd stripped out of the building for $6 to $8 each.

Crane operator Kary R. Roberts, also known as Sean Benschop, 42, was working on tearing down the building when it collapsed. He faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of risking a catastrophe, and is in jail awaiting a preliminary hearing on the charges.

Campbell also faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of reckless endangerment, one count of causing a catastrophe, a count of risking a catastrophe and one count of criminal conspiracy. He surrendered to police Monday.

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