Arraignment for Duo Accused in Deadly Center City Collapse

The only people accused in the Philadelphia building collapse that left six people dead in a neighboring thrift store were formally arraigned this morning.

Backhoe operator Sean Benschop, a.k.a. Kary Roberts, and contractor Griffin Campbell were arraigned Tuesday in Common Pleas court. The hearing was mostly procedural as attorneys exchanged paperwork.

Benschop and Campbell are implicated in the June collapse that left six dead and 13 more hurt inside a Salvation Army store at 22nd and Market Streets in Center City.

Benschop, 43, and Campbell, 49, each face dozens of counts including third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, risking catastrophe, aggravated assault and conspiracy. Both have remained behind bars unable to post bail.

Authorities say Benschop was operating the excavator at the site of a building demolition at 2136 Market Street on the morning of June 5, 2013 when the building's western wall collapsed. The four-story brick wall was free-standing and had not been braced using demolition equipment.

The debris from the wall crushed the one-story thrift shop next door, burying shoppers and store clerks alive.

The most severely injured person, Mariya Plekan, had both legs amputated at the hips after being pinned beneath the brick, steel and glass debris for more than 12 hours. She spent five months in the hospital.

Benschop was arrested shortly after the collapse and underwent drug and alcohol tests. Police said those tests came up positive for prescription painkiller and marijuana use. Benschop, however, did have a broken arm, for which he said the painkillers were being used.

He and his family have maintained Benschop's innocence during the entire ordeal. His attorney, Daine Grey, told NBC10 Philadelphia in September 2013 that he believed evidence would vindicate his client.

Several investigations were launched in the wake of the collapse including the convening of a grand jury. The grand jury came back with their findings in November 2013 and along with that presentment, came the charges against Campbell.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said the building was not properly demolished and that those involved ignored safety advice.

A grand jury investigation, according to Williams, "places Campbell at the center of culpability." Williams said that instead of opting for the safest way to dismantle the building, Campbell opted for the most profitable way, which included salvaging some of the dismantled parts.

Williams said numerous demolition and construction experts testified before the grand jury, explaining that there was one appropriate way to take the building down.

"The building should have been taken down hand by hand, piece by piece, brick by brick," Williams said.

Instead of taking the building apart from the outside, Campbell removed key structural parts of the building from inside first, using heavy machinery, according to Williams.

"He therefore chose to maximize his profits by first deciding to remove the joists, which were valuable for his resale." That left the walls without support, Williams said.

On the night before the collapse, Plato Marinakos, an architect and the project's expeditor, allegedly warned Campbell that the unbraced wall could collapse at any time. According to Williams, Campbell promised that night to have the part of the wall that towered above thrift store taken down, brick-by-brick. The work was started, but never finished. On the morning of the collapse, about an hour before the walls crumbled, Campbell called Marinakos and told him the freestanding part of the wall was safely removed.

Marinakos, a key witness for prosecutors in their case against Benschop and Campbell, was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony.

The collapse happened at 10:41 a.m. Four minutes later, Campbell began repeatedly calling Marinakos. When Marinakos arrived on the scene, Campbell admitted to him that the wall wasn't taken down brick by brick, according to the grand jury presentment.

Jay Bryan, the father of Anne Bryan, who was killed in the collapse, told NBC10 he hoped the ongoing grand jury investigation would lead to more results.

"We're grateful that it sounds like the investigation is ongoing," Bryan said. "We hope that everyone will be held accountable from bottom to top."

Pretrial conferences for Benschop and Campbell are set for next month.

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