The excavator operator who was demolishing a four-story building in downtown Philadelphia this week when it collapsed onto a Salvation Army store, killing six people, has turned himself in to police.
Sean Benschop, 42, is to be charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of risking a catastrophe, Philadelphia police spokeswoman Jillian Russell confirmed in an email to The Times. Benschop turned himself in at the Central Detectives Division after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison told the Associated Press on Friday evening that a toxicology test showed Benschop had marijuana in his system at the time of the disaster. The findings of the test, along with witness statements and evidence at the scene, prompted police to raid Benschop’s home in North Philadelphia and eventually led to an arrest warrant, Gillison said.
[Updated at 5:26 p.m. June 8: An attorney for Benschop told the Associated Press late Saturday that his client "is not responsible." Lawyer Daine Grey said that Benschop and his family "are extremely sympathetic and remorseful" but that the facts will ultimately clear Benschop of responsibility in the disaster.]
Court records show Benschop has a history of trouble with the law, the Associated Press reported. He has been arrested at least 11 times since 1994 on charges involving drugs, theft and weapons possession. He was convicted on drug trafficking charges in the 1990s and sentenced to prison twice.
The building Benschop was helping to demolish was located next to the Salvation Army thrift store at 22ndand Market streets. On Wednesday, part of the structure collapsed onto the store, killing two employees and four shoppers and injuring 14 others.
Two survivors of the collapse, a store employee and a shopper, have filed a lawsuit against the fallen building's owner and the demolition contractor. Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi called the disaster a “grossly reckless, unplanned act” in an interview with the Times on Friday.
As public outrage over the disaster mounted, officials in Philadelphia announced planned changes to the city’s demolition standards. The proposals involve holding private developments, property owners and contractors to the same standards as public projects. That would include making sure private contractors meet qualifications through a new permit application process, Mayor Michael Nutter said in a televised news conference Friday.
“We can do much better, and will,” Nutter said.