Building Collapse Victim’s Wife Struggles to Keep Home

Two and a half years after her husband died in the Market Street building collapse, Maggie Davis is so broke she could lose their home.

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Family Photo

Maggie buried him in blue. A blue suit and a blue casket. Blue was the color she’d worn on their wedding day. It was his favorite color.

The details surrounding her husband’s unexpected death are imprinted in Maggie’s mind. She rewinds to their last goodbye, the morning she tried to get him to stay home, but Borbor Davis never called in sick. He was the guy who’d banked more vacation days than he knew what to do with. They felt more like obligations and Borbor, 68, loved his job.

“I said, ‘Why not stay home? Can you stay?’”

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From the dark brown couch inside her worn, but tidy row home on a block in Darby Borough where the yards are more manicured than not, Maggie looks over at the same front door where her husband stood that day.

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“He looked back at me. I said, ‘Bye, ugly!’ And he said, like he always do, ‘Bye, ugly!’”

Maggie laughs. It was part of their daily routine -- one of the funny back-and-forths she and Borbor shared.

“We always played like that. He was my friend. I lost a lot. I really lost a lot.”

Two and a half years after her husband died in the Market Street building collapse, Maggie Davis is so broke she’s afraid she’ll lose her home. It’s a tough place to be — not just financially, but mentally — for a woman whose face settles into such a warm smile. She does a good job hiding pain suffered now on two continents.

Second Chances

When she’s sitting, Maggie Adams Davis seems younger than her 76 years. No cane needed, and you don’t sense the ache it takes to make it up and down the stairs.

It’s the day after Christmas, and without the distraction of a holiday shared with 17 of her family members, Maggie’s worries are right there on the couch with her. Overdue bills and property tax notices rolled up neatly inside an old blue plastic folder secured by two rubber bands.

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A privileged woman in her homeland, Maggie moved to the U.S. more than 30 years ago to escape Liberia’s Civil War, which robbed her of her first husband, two sons and a daughter. She worked first on her education and then her career as a phlebotomist, drawing blood for patients at hospitals in Philadelphia. Maggie was determined to give nearly a dozen children and grandchildren she brought here the education they needed to clutch, competitively, at a better life.

“They’ve all got their degrees. They’re married. Their kids are going to college. I have none drunk. None smoke. None.”

Maggie Adams wasn’t looking for love, but one day after services at the church in Lansdowne where she still sings in the choir, a tall, handsome man approached her, smiling.

“He said, ‘Look like I know you,’ and I said, ‘Look like I know you too!’”

Turns out they’d gone to the same high school together more than 45 years ago in Liberia. They shared a lot of history. After dating about six months, Maggie and Borbor were inseparable. He’d had girlfriends over the years and while that might have been enough again for him, Maggie wanted more, so they married.

“He was a nice man. A nice, tall man. My kids loved him. We used to have fun. We used to walk together up and down the block. We never argued.” Not once in nine years.

“I miss the way he came down the stairs in the morning.”

Losing Love, Then Money

“Probably, if he had called in sick he would be living, if he had not gone that day. He didn’t feel well.”

The goodbye didn’t end at the doorway that morning. It never did. During work that Wednesday, Borbor called Maggie from the basement of the Salvation Army Thrift Store where he’d been on the job for five years.

“He always called me. ‘What are you doing? Where are you?’ I was usually reading or in the kitchen, sewing.”

On June 5, 2013, Borbor and Maggie had been on the phone for 10 or 15 minutes when he told her he had to hang up. “My boss may come,” he said.

“As soon as I put the phone down, my daughter called me, ‘Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Put the TV on! Put the TV on!”

The thrift store was gone -- crushed by the wall of a building next door that collapsed during demolition.

Workers and shoppers inside the store were buried alive under the crushing weight of four stories of bricks and debris.

Maggie sent pictures of Borbor down to the collapse site, imploring everyone she could, from the media to the mayor, to keep digging, keep searching.

“I said, ‘No, it's not break time. It's time to look for the people in the basement. They found the first woman, then they found my husband.”

He and six others died. A dozen were injured.

But Borbor Davis didn’t die instantly. Trapped in the basement of the small thrift shop, Maggie’s beloved husband suffered agonizing last moments, with severe blunt trauma, crush injuries, asphyxia and pain — both physical and psychological — according to the suit filed on behalf of the victims.

Borbor was declared dead at 7:54 p.m. that night — more than nine hours after the collapse.

The Weight of Waiting

Maggie is one of the 19 parties suing the Salvation Army and property owner Richard Basciano, as well as other principals connected to his company, which owned the building being demolished.

Basciano, who was on site with his wife the morning of the collapse, according to his demolition contractor, isn’t talking publicly. Attorney Thomas Sprague says his story will be told at trial, scheduled for Sept. 6.

Eight more months? Maggie holds up her bundle of bills. She doesn’t know how to make the math work any better. They got by when he was working, but since Borbor died, Maggie's lost more than half her income.

Each month, she's stretching the $760 she gets from Social Security as far as she can. It does cover her $650 mortgage, but what’s left and the extra she earns here and there as a seamstress isn’t enough to pay down two years of property taxes she owes to Delaware County for the modest home she and Borbor bought together. Relatives help when they can and when she lets them, but for Maggie, that adds another layer of stress because it chips away at her independence and strength.

"I should be helping them," Maggie says, taking a deep breath on the edge of her couch.

Harry Roth, the attorney representing Maggie, said he and the other lawyers representing survivors who lost loved ones in the collapse are working hard to get the case resolved.

"This is longer than we'd like, but it is a complicated case," Roth said. "Discovery has been complicated by the fact that there was a grand-jury investigation, and so witnesses were either not available to or would not substantively respond to discovery because of their fifth-amendment concerns.

"Obviously, we would like it to be faster for everybody ... because the quicker we can get this thing to trial, the quicker we can get justice for these families."

Roth said his firm is doing "everything we can" to ensure that Maggie doesn't lose her home in the meantime.

"This is why we're pressing on our side with the other lawyers to really keep things moving," he said.

Maggie's no stranger to struggles. But this time, she is "just tired" and misses Borbor.

“You never get your husband back, and you will not get the value of your husband,” Maggie says, thinking ahead to the trial. “I hope they give me the value of my husband."

Her mind rewinds again. “I buried him in blue. It was brilliant. It was beautiful. Blue is a very good color.”

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