The first murder charges have been handed down in a deadly building collapse that took the lives of six people, injured 13 and resulted in an overhaul of demolition practices in the city of Philadelphia.
Griffin T. Campbell, 49, of Philadelphia, faces six counts of third degree murder, six counts of involuntary manslaughter and 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person, according to District Attorney Seth Williams.
"It would appear, bluntly, the motive was greed," Williams said.
Campbell is accused of ignoring safety advice, right up to the eve of the collapse.
It was the morning of June 5, 2013, when a 4-story, free-standing brick wall came crashing down on top of the Salvation Army Thrift Store on the corner of 22nd and Market Streets. Shoppers and workers inside were buried in the debris -- including one woman, for 13 hours.
The grand jury investigation, according to Williams, "places Campbell at the center of culpability." Williams said that instead of opting for the safest way to dismantle the building, Campbell opted for the most profitable way, which included salvaging some of the dismantled parts.
Williams said numerous demolition and construction experts testified before the grand jury, explaining that there was one appropriate way to take the building down.
"The building should have been taken down hand by hand, piece by piece, brick by brick," Williams said.
Instead of taking the building apart from the outside, Campbell removed key structural parts of the building from inside first, using heavy machinery, according to Williams.
"He therefore chose to maximize his profits by first deciding to remove the joists, which were valuable for his resale." That left the walls without support, Williams said.
On the night before the collapse, Plato Marinakos, an architect and the project's expeditor, allegedly warned Campbell that the unbraced wall could collapse at any time. According to Williams, Campbell promised that night to have the part of the wall that towered above thrift store taken down, brick-by-brick. The work was started, but never finished. On the morning of the collapse, about an hour before the walls crumbled, Campbell called Marinakos and tole him the freestanding part of the wall had been safely taken.
The collapse happened at 10:41 a.m. Four minutes later, Campbell began repeatedly calling Marinakos. According to the grand jury presentment:
...Campbell called Marinakos and told him that the building collapsed and he should get to the site right away. As Marinakos traveled to the store, Campbell continued to "frantically" call Marinakos and plead for him to get to the site. Eventually, Marinakos got to the site and found Campbell in the chaos. Marinakos asked Campbell how this happened and Campbell admitted to him "he didn't take the wall down" and stated "I'm sorry."
Construction accident attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, who is defending the majority of survivors and victims' families who have filed civil suits, said he was looking forward to the continued work of the grand jury to see if anyone higher up the chain of command would be indicted.
"The information we've discovered and the emails we've uncovered have proven that this accident occurred because of decisions made over days and weeks and not just on the job site," Mongeluzzi said. He also questioned whether Marinakos, the expeditor, could have done more.
"If I was at a job site and there was a wall that I knew could potentially collapse onto the building next door, the first thing I would have done is pick up the phone and call 911, the police department and OSHA," Mongeluzzi said.
Campbell did not talk when he turned himself in this afternoon, but his attorney, William Hobson said the collapse was a horrible, tragic accident, but that his client did nothing wrong.
"We will vigorously defend all these allegations and charges," Hobson said, lashing out at the DA. "It was no accident that the Monday before Thanksgiving that the District Attorney decided to indict our client.
"I hope that Campbell's arrest will give victims and their families some sense of relief, although I know their pain will never go away," Williams said.
Campbell is the second person charged in the fatal collapse. During the first week of the investigation, prosecutors charged Sean Benschop, an excavator hired by Campbell, with six counts of involuntary manslaughter and 13 counts of reckless endangerment for his alleged role in the collapse.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed nearly $400,000 in penalties and issued construction safety citations to Campbell and Benschop.
In the wake of the collapse, the city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections issued new guidelines for demolitions taking place inside the city.
A special City Council investigative committee also issued 71 reform recommendations ranging from changes in demolition paperwork to altering the Philadelphia Code to giving the Philadelphia Fire Department more power to stop bad demolitions.
The parents of Anne Bryan, one of the victims who died in the collapse, pushed for the creation of a blue-ribbon commission to investigate L&I. Bryan, 24, was shopping with her best friend Mary Lea Simpson inside the store the morning of the collapse. Both died.
"We are hopeful this is only the beginning of the Grand Jury’s work and that eventually all those that were responsible for the death of our daughter and the other victims are held criminally responsible to the fullest extent of the law."