For three years, real estate developer Richard Basciano remained silent.
The 91-year-old finally spoke publicly Tuesday about the catastrophe at his Market Street construction site that left seven dead and 12 others injured June 5, 2013.
Within minutes of taking the stand at the civil trial in which he is one of six defendants, Basciano lashed out at the accusation that he witnessed first-hand the collapse of a four-story wall that crushed the Salvation Army store next door.
“That is a damned lie! A damned lie! I’m going through hell here!” he yelled during questioning by plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Wigrizer. “You know this and you’re distorting this!”
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He then appeared to cry as he turned to Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina and said, “I’m sorry, your honor. I’m sorry, your honor.”
Basciano’s outburst came as Wigrizer grilled him about one of the most startling revelations to arise in the three-plus years since the tragedy: Basciano and his wife, Lois, were actually at the demolition site between 21st and 22nd streets when the collapse occurred.
Wigrizer peppered Basciano about the moments that have never been fully fleshed out. The attorney showed video testimony from Basciano’s demolition contractor, Griffin Campbell, in which Campbell said he was talking to Richard and Lois Basciano and looking at the site when the collapse occurred.
After settling down, Basciano testified that he was in a bathroom at the parking garage next to the demolition site when the collapse occurred.
“Totally disagree,” Basciano said of Campbell’s testimony. “That is a gross distortion of the facts. I didn’t have a conversation with him other than I had to go to the bathroom.”
The long-awaited testimony was the most explosive yet in a trial that began last month. It is expected to last into late November.
Contributing to the drawn-out courtroom drama is the sheer volume of attorneys for the 19 plaintiffs and six defendants.
The defendants are Basciano and his company STB, his project representative Plato Marinakos, Campbell, Campbell’s excavator operator Sean Benschop, and the Salvation Army.
Campbell and Benschop were the only two people criminally charged and are each serving lengthy prison terms for involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
Before Basciano took the stand in the afternoon, his architect and representative, Marinakos, finished three days of testimony.
During his time on the stand Tuesday morning, Marinakos admitted that he and Basciano’s project manager, Thomas Simmonds knew that Campbell didn’t have his demolition permit from the city of Philadelphia when the project began in early 2013.
Marinakos also admitted he didn’t know how to apply International Building Code to the demolition project.
The Philadelphia-based architect was granted immunity from prosecution by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office shortly after the collapse. He testified as a prosecutor’s witness at the criminal trial for Campbell and Benschop.
Under examination from plaintiffs’ attorney Bob Mongeluzzi, Marinakos testified that the unsecured wall that eventually collapsed was “potentially” dangerous.
“It was imminently dangerous, true?” Mongeluzzi asked.
“True,” Marinakos said.
“And was it in imminent danger of collapse?” Mongeluzzi asked.
“Potentially,” Marinakos answered.
Mongeluzzi then showed the architect’s testimony from the criminal trial for Campbell and Benschop.
“Yes, it had to be corrected. Yes,” Marinakos testified at that trial of the wall.
The trial continues Thursday. Basciano may take the stand again in the afternoon.