The Salvation Army will become the latest defendant in litigation over a deadly Philadelphia building collapse.
Lawyer Robert Mongeluzzi says the Salvation Army, the collapsed building's owner STB Investments, and City of Philadelphia officials played "a game of chicken" over the demolition, despite known safety risks.
"It appears clear, through the devastating exchange of emails, that all were warned of the very disaster that occurred but STB, the Salvation Army and the City engaged in a game of chicken trying to decide who would act first," Mongeluzzi said.
The accident happened at 22nd and Market Street on June 5. As the downtown building was being demolished, it collapsed onto a neighboring Salvation Army thrift store, killing two employees and four customers; 13 others were injured in the incident.
Eric Weiss, attorney for the Salvation Army, took issue with Mongeluzzi's claim, saying, "Any assertion that the Salvation Army was careless with the safety of their employees or their building is absolutely false and will be completely refuted."
The last of five special hearings looking into the collapse was held today at City Hall. The special investigating committee made up of five council members and led by Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. heard testimony from members of the public for the first time today. Jones said this part of the hearings is the most important of all.
"The public comment is the most important comment because you pay the bills; you're the taxpayers, you're the boss, and if we don't hear from you we haven't done our job on this committee," Jones said.
Jones also laid out future plans for the committee and reiterated its intent to work with the Nutter Administration to create new guidelines for the City's licensing and inspection and demolition practices. Cost, Jones said, should not be a deterrent.
"We want to work--to the degree that we can--work with the Administration, the Mayor, and the commissioner of L&I to talk about what the impact of these recommendations will be on them. It's gonna cost more. If we have to hire more L&I inspectors or increase the quality of training among the workforce, so be it. At the end of the day this isn't for sensationalism, this is for safety" he said.
A contractor being sued by people injured in the collapse, now says he wants a judge to delay those lawsuits for at least nine months while a criminal grand jury continues to investigate the incident.
At a news conference this morning, Mongeluzzi said his firm is crafting a response to the contractor, Griffin Campbell's request, which was filed late Wednesday.
"We oppose any stay of the civil proceeding and we will be filing a response vigorously contesting a stay," Mongeluzzi said.
"Its not fair to the families and victims of this collapse. Justice delayed is justice denied, and they deserve their day in court."
Mongeluzzi represents five survivors and the family of a woman who was killed inside the Salvation Army Thrift Store that was crushed when a four-story building under demolition next door collapsed.
Berkley Assurance Co. of Iowa has also sued in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, claiming Campbell had an invalid insurance policy.