Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announces that his office will convene an investigative grand jury to look into last week's deadly building collapse that killed six and injured 13 others in Center City Philadelphia.
Philadelphia police have raided the home of Griffin Campbell, the contractor of last week's deadly building collapse. They are searching for evidence as a grand jury works to determine if Campbell should be charged for the deaths of six people and the injuries of 13 others.
Earlier on Monday, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams annoucned he will convene a grand jury to look into the collapse.
"Philadelphians have no shortage of opinion on who should be held responsible in the chain of events that led up to this," Williams said today during a late morning press conference, "but our office will not be a part of rush to judgment."
Williams asked citizens to be patient and allow the Grand Jury to "investigate any and all actions they feel are appropriate as they're gathering information."
In addition to those killed, 13 were injured last Wednesday when a four-story building collapsed onto a Salvation Army thrift store, burying store emplouees and shoppers.
"The tragic circumstances of last week robbed the city of six amazing Philadelphians," Williams said, extending his condolences to the families of the victims who were killed and those who were injured. "The battle to truly heal for all of you is just beginning."
Over the weekend, legal teams representing a handful of victims who have already filed suit were at the collapse site, collecting evidence to analyze.
"This project should have been demolished by hand," said Robert Mongeluzzi, lead attorney for a number of victims. "You had a four-story wall which would have been 40-feet high. We do not yet have the measurements of the backhoe yet but it appears to be a 23-foot stick. That means that the backhoe arm would not be able to go up above the wall to try to pull it down."
Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia attorney who is considered one of the most successful construction accident and catastrophe trial lawyers in the country, contends that buildings constructed before 1950, like the one that collapsed, should be taken apart by hand and from the top floor down.
Law enforcement and legal teams are both investigating whether the backhoe operator was using a steel beam in the claw of his equipment to knock down the building before it collapsed.
That backhoe operator, Kary R. Roberts, a.k.a. Sean Benschop, surrendered to police Saturday to face six charges of involuntary manslaughter and related charges.
"This is laughable that they dragged my client throught the mud over the weekend, and now they want to investigate the people who hired him in secret," said Daine Grey, Jr., the attorney representing Roberts, a.k.a. Benschop.
Jennifer Selber, Chief of the Homicide Unit within the DA's office, responded to questions of whether Roberts was taking the fall in this case and if other arrests are imminent.
"This is an initial step where we had the evidence to arrest him [Roberts]," she said. "Toxicology showed at this level that he was under the influence of a controlled substance so that he was too impaired to safely operate that crane and there was other evidence that he might have been using the crane improperly, so that those two things taken together mean that he is responsible. It doesn't mean that other people aren't responsible as well, we just don't have the evidence of that at this point."
The property is owned by a group of businessmen, including wealthy developer Richard Basciano. He and the company, STB Investments, are being represented by Philadelphia Attorney Thomas A. Sprague who said today he would not be commenting on the case at this point.
"Since this is in litigation, we're not going to be talking right now and we're going to handle things through the proper legal channels," he said.
The lead contractor for the demolition is Griffin Campbell and his company is Griffin-Campbell Construction. City records show that Campbell, 49, had a valid license and that the proper permits were given for demolition. A search of court records shows Campbell filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in March and owes tax money to the city, state and federal government. His attorney says Campbell has worked out an agreement with the city on back taxes. Court records also show that in 2009, Campbell pleaded guilty to charges of theft and insurance fraud.
"I respectfully ask that there be no rush to judgment while this investigation is conducted," said Campbell's attorney, Kenneth Edelin, in a statement released on Monday.
The statement defends the contractor and his company with bullet-points highlighting his 20 years of experience and specifically addressing questions and work related to the demolition of the building at 22nd and Market. Edelin points out that Campbell's bid for the job was $112,000, that he had successfully demolished adjoining properties at 2132 and 2134 Market.
"Griffin Campbell has not had any accident or injuries on any of his previous demolition jobs," the statement reads.