Kim Lee doesn’t visit the corner of 22nd and Market streets in Center City very often. In fact, she avoids it.
Her husband, Griffin Campbell, is the former demolition contractor slapped with a 15- to 30-year prison sentence for the infamous 2013 Salvation Army building collapse. In civil court, Campbell was determined to have played a small role in the accident. He was later found guilty of six counts of involuntary manslaughter during a criminal trial.
“My husband was one of the heroes,” Lee recently told NBC10. “He was the first one on the scene.”
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
It has been almost five years since that unforgettable day when a mushroom plume of smoke and debris filled Center City. Six people died and more than a dozen were injured. A memorial plaque now replaces the former thrift store, perpetually condemning the “reckless demolition” that caused those deaths.
“To have it written in stone on the wall … that’s kind of like a slap in the face,” Campbell’s daughter, Amella Lee Campbell, said.
In the days following the collapse, Campbell was inconsolable. His daughters remember him “balled up on the couch like a baby,” sobbing as he watched television coverage. His wife recalls Campbell calling her on the phone, hysterically crying, as he rushed to help victims.
The Campbell family views him as the seventh victim of that building collapse, a cog trapped in the criminal justice system with no recourse other than to die in jail. He was not operating machinery that day and was only following orders to speed up the demolition, they said.
Campbell recently spoke to NBC10 from prison and said that he will continue to fight his sentence.
“The billionaires all went home and I was sent to prison,” Griffin Campbell said. “I absolutely think the system has failed me.”
Excavator Sean Benschop was also sentenced to prison following the collapse. He admitted to being high on marijuana and percocet at the time of the botched demolition. Benschop received a 7.5- to 15-year prison sentence after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Meanwhile, Richard Basciano, the building’s owner, was never charged and architect Plato Marinakos was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony against Campbell and others. The lead building inspector, Ronald Wagenhoffer, died by suicide one week after the accident, blaming himself for the six deaths in a recorded video.
Despite the tragic wake left behind by that accident, the Campbell family continues to hope for a legal miracle. Campbell has an upcoming hearing before the Pennsylvania Superior Court during which his attorney will ask for a new trial or early release. Campbell’s legal team has also enlisted the NAACP’s help and recently met with Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
“We’re just hoping and praying. That’s basically all that we can do,” his daughter, Akea Campbell, said. “As a family, we try to stick together and hold each other up.”
The Campbell sisters recently turned to the Free Meek Mill movement after the controversial rapper was released on bail following a lengthy legal battle. Mill’s perceived triumph in court re-energized their efforts, the sisters told NBC10. They hope to piggyback off his successful request for bail and raise more awareness for their father.
“There is absolutely no plan to change the sentence or agree with the request for a new trial,” a source within the DA’s office told NBC10. “It is highly unlikely that we would agree to a new trial and any other changes in the case.”