Mariya Plekan's dramatic rescue brought hope to a day that was dominated by despair. She was the last survivor pulled from the rubble of Philadelphia's deadly building collapse.
Plekan was buried alive for 13 hours.
"She was trapped, face down. She couldn't move. She remembers there was a small hole she could breathe through," said Andy Stern, Plekan's attorney.
Plekan tried to scream for help as rescue crews with trained dogs and high-tech equipment searched the collapse site. But it was too hard for her to breathe, according to Stern.
After squeezing the hand of a firefighter who reached down to her, and then being pulled from the debris, the 52-year-old mother of two was rushed the the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Over the last 12 days, she has undergone multiple surgeries.
"It got to the point where they had to remove tissue and bone literally up to the base of her hips, so half of her body has been surgically removed," Stern said.
Originally from Ukraine, Plekan moved to the United States 11 years ago to care for an aunt who was dying. More recently, she worked as a caregiver for an elderly woman. On the morning of June 5, Plekan was shopping in the Salvation Army thrift store when a four-story wall next door came down on top of the store. Six people died. Plekan is one of 13 survivors.
Plekan is now being represented by the Philadelphia law firm Kline & Specter, which specializes in personal injury cases. Stern says the firm will work to figure out who is responsible for leaving Plekan in an immobile state.
"It's going to be challenging, and we will ensure they are brought to justice and pay," Stern said.
Six other survivors have already filed suit against the building's owner, Richard Basciano, and his company, STB Investments Corp., as well as the lead contractor working on the demolition, Griffin T. Campbell, and his company, Griffin Campbell Construction.
One person, a subcontractor, has been charged in the case. Kane R. Roberts, also known as Sean Benschop, is facing six charges of involuntary manslaughter. Investigators for the District Attorney's office say he was operating an excavator at the collapse site that morning under the influence of painkillers and marijuana.
A grand jury was is now investigating the collapse, which means it could be weeks or months before recommendations are issued on whether anyone else should face criminal charges.
On Wednesday, a City Council committee will start hearing testimony on the collapse. Those hearings are scheduled to open with the testimony of Carlton Williams, Commissioner of the Department of Licenses and Inspections.