Market Street Building Collapse Excavator Operator Pleads Guilty, Victim's Family Wants More Justice

The excavator operator accused of being under the influence of drugs the day of the June 2013 deadly building collapse on Market Street in Center City pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges including involuntary manslaughter and causing a catastrophe.

The admission wasn't enough for the family of one victim.

Sean Benschop, 44, was arrested in the wake of the collapse. Investigators believe the vibration from his excavator caused a four-story brick wall to collapse onto an adjacent one-story Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market streets, burying shoppers and employees in debris. One woman lost both legs after spending nearly 13 hours in the rubble.

Benschop was also operating the machinery with a cast on his right hand after taking the painkiller Percocet for the injury and using marijuana the day of the June 2013 collapse, authorities have said.

In court Tuesday, Benschop, speaking softly, pleaded guilty to six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 12 counts of reckless endangerment, conspiracy and causing a catastrophe. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend no more than 10 to 20 years when Benschop is sentenced in October. The native of Guyana has six children and an eighth-grade education.

Prosecutors said he had been warned previously not to use machinery to demolish an unsupported wall.

Defense attorney Bill Davis told the Philadelphia Daily News that Benschop wanted to take responsibility for his actions. He said his client "cries and prays almost every night" for the victims and their families.

The family of victim Anne Bryan doesn't forgive Benschop:

"The loss of a child is incomprehensible for any parent; and our pain is compounded with the knowledge that so many people, businesses, and organizations were either involved, knew of, and/or chose to ignore the looming, deadly danger," said Bryan's parents Nancy Winkler and Jay Bryan in a statement. "Sean Benschop’s conduct was unforgivable."

The Bryan family wants to see more people held accountable for the deadly incident.

"...Others played a role in killing our daughter and have yet to be held accountable. We will not rest until everyone responsible for Anne's death and the deaths of the other victims are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. We continue to wait for all those responsible to break their silence and answer questions about their outrageous conduct leading up to the fatal building collapse. The waiting and uncertainty is deeply troubling. Bringing the full story to light so the public will know what occurred is not just in our personal interest, but that of all the citizens of our city."

The only other person charged in the case is contractor Griffin Campbell, 51, who faces several counts of third-degree murder, manslaughter, reckless endangerment and related offenses in the incident.

Campbell's lawyer said his client will fight the charges at trial.

"There are many, many parties much higher on the economic food chain and the political power chain and the money chain that are not ... charged with this tragic, epic accident," his lawyer, William Hobson, said Tuesday.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams hinted that more justice could still be handed out.

“Today’s guilty plea is substantial step in our work to fully prosecute this case and so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the community, SEPTA, the City of Philadelphia and all of the witnesses who offered testimony and evidence that led to Mr. Benschop’s plea,” said Williams.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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