Collapse on June 5, 2013 in Center City Philadelphia killed 6 and injured 13 people

Did the City Need to Perform Other Inspections on Collapsed Building?

Photos of demolition site before the deadly building collapse muddles inspection history

By Vince Lattanzio
|  Thursday, Jun 13, 2013  |  Updated 5:47 PM EDT
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Building Collapse Inspection Photos

OSHA

A picture taken by an inspector from OSHA on May 15, 2013. City officials say the photo shows lights on in the building's fourth-floor and that proves demolition work hadn't begun at the building when L&I visited the site. Other pictures and citizen accounts refute those claims.

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Did the City of Philadelphia need to perform anything more than an initial inspection on the four-story building that collapsed last Wednesday, killing six and injuring 13?

NBC10.com has learned the answer depends on who you talk to and what photos of the building you’re looking at.

Mayor Michael Nutter said hours after the collapse on June 5, that an inspector from the Department of Licenses & Inspections, never inspected 2136 Market Street -- also known as the Hoagie City Building -- after an initial inspection in February.

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The city did receive a complaint from resident Stephen Field, but the address given was for an adjacent property, 2134 Market Street, according to Mayor Nutter. The mayor added that L&I inspector Ron Wagenhoffer did not look at Hoagie City Building during his May 14 visit because demolition hadn’t yet begun.

To further that point, L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy distributed a photo of the property taken by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during a second and separate inspection on May 15. OSHA spokeswoman Joanna Hawkins says the federal agency had received an anonymous complaint about fall hazards.

Kennedy told The Daily News Saturday that the photo clearly shows no demolition work had begun on the site and that the fourth-floor lights are on.

Several people refute those claims.

Field told NBC10.com he witnessed demolition work going on at both properties when he initially contacted the city. He also said there were no lights on inside the building -- adding that the white light in the picture was from the removed roof.

“The statement that no work had started on 2136-38 Market is obviously inaccurate as the roof is already removed from that building in the photo,” he said.

Demolition contractor Griffin Campbell also says demolition work began before the city and OSHA inspections.

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At a press conference Tuesday, Campbell’s attorney Kenneth Eledin shared photos taken over the course of nine weeks -- showing the roof removed and interior demolition work underway.

Still, another photo, shared by Center City attorney Howard Haas clearly -- much more so than the OSHA photo -- shows the roof removed on the fourth floor. This photo was taken April 14, a month before the L&I inspection.

Department of Licenses & Inspections records show Wagenhoffer completed an initial inspection at the Hoagie City building on February 25, but that no additional inspections followed.

Still, confusion remains among officials as to how many inspections took place. And photos of the site may be the cause.

NBC10.com asked Dartmouth University professor Hany Farid, an expert in digital forensics, to analyze the OSHA photo. He said its hard to conclude whether ceiling lights were on inside the building.

“I would note, however, that the sky is much brighter than the illumination on the top floor which would suggest that these are, in fact, indoor lights,” he said. “That is, if the light was pouring in from a removed roof, I would have expected the light seen through the windows to be much brighter.”

He said the photo is not compelling proof in either direction, but that someone looking at the image could perceive the illumination to be artificial lighting.

The OSHA photo shows an overblown cloudy sky and weather reports from May 15 list conditions as mostly cloudy.

A veteran construction engineer says he would have shut down demolition at the site of last week’s deadly building collapse over a lack of safety precautions.

Robert Brehm, a civil engineer and professor at Drexel University, says looking at images of the demolition at 2136 Market Street prior to its collapse, he could see clear safety violations that should result in a shutdown.

“I would have immediately observed that the sidewalks weren’t barricaded and I would have immediately recognized, I assume that I would have recognized, that there were people in the adjacent (Salvation Army Thrift Store).”

“‘Get those people out and cover the sidewalks. Until then I’m shutting you down,’” Brehm says he would have said to the contractor. “Your first responsibility is protect the public.”

Brehm says the primary responsibility lies with the contractor in ensuring the demolition is safe. He adds that the onus remains on the contractor to notify officials work had begun and it appears, according to city documentation, that they were. A demolition start date was set for February 21 -- four days before the building’s first and only inspection, L&I records show.

Mayor Nutter Press Secretary Mark McDonald said Thursday he was unaware of what the mayor had told The Daily News. He also reiterated that the May 14 inspection of 2134 Market Street found no issues.

“What the inspector looked at that day, the site permit was posted, hard hats on workers and there were no violations,” he said.

Wagenhoffer committed suicide Wednesday night, city officials confirmed. He shot himself in the chest, according to sources. He felt to blame for the collapse, sources said.

OSHA will not comment on its inspection citing an open investigation. Spokeswoman Joanna Hawkins did say “OSHA did not observe any signs of imminent danger.”

Edelin said the OSHA inspector did not even enter the building, but simply yelled up to the workers to come down so that their safety equipment could be observed.

Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said there are currently five investigations -- including a grand jury investigation -- underway to determine what may have led to the collapse. He adds that the city is "proud" of L&I and Wagenhoffer's work.

“This man did nothing wrong,” he said. “The department did what it was supposed to do under the code that existed at the time."


Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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