The Inquirer has an examination of what people knew and when they knew it before the Hoagie City building collapsed onto the Salvation Army thrift store. This goes to the heart of the matter in terms of culpability, both criminal (civil lawsuits) and moral. It also reemphasizes what we already knew and which Victor Fiorillo wrote about in September: The Salvation Army is not looking good in this whole thing. Some fundamental questions:
- Did the store manager at the Salvation Army know the employees were at risk?
- Did the Salvation Army supervisor of nine stores know the employees were at risk?
- Did the Salvation Army organization know that the demolition was risky enough to merit closing the location while the work continued?
The Salvation Army’s lawyer, Eric A. Weiss, told the Inquirer that the organization had no idea what stage the demo had reached.
At decision-making levels, Weiss said, the charity thought it was still negotiating with its Market Street neighbor over what steps would be taken to shield the shop during demolition when the collapse occurred.
He said the Salvation Army had designated a Harrisburg lawyer to negotiate with the owner of the building being torn down, STB Investments Corp., a company controlled by real estate investor Richard Basciano.
But the Inquirer reported previously that STB warned the organization of the hazards in a series of emails. As it stands now, aside from the criminal charges filed against the demolition contractor and the excavator operator, it seems as though the Salvation Army will bear the brunt of the blame for the loss of life and the injuries suffered. Good thing they’ve got deep pockets.
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The Daily News reports today on the deposition of Mariya Plekan, the woman who was trapped under the rubble of the Salvation Army thrift store for 13 hours. By the time she was rescued, her injuries were too severe to save her legs, which had to be amputated. The details she gave are haunting and hard to hear:
Plekan, who said she was conscious for the entire ordeal, recounted how she found a small hole through which she could see light and hear parts of the rescue operation above her.
“They started to move things around, then I had a hope, I had a hope that they will save me shortly. But it didn’t happen,” she said. “I was screaming, ‘Help, help.’ But nobody heard me.”
“I was praying, praying, ‘God, help me,’ so I could be found,” she said.
A search dog tracked her down.
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Well, this is odd. Yesterday Mayor Nutter finally announced the creation of a 16-member panel that will evaluate the Department of Licenses and Inspections, and the panel’s executive director will be former U.S. attorney Peter F. Vaira, an expert in organized crime and defense attorney for ousted Penn State president Graham Spanier.
Spanier, you might remember, was accused in the Freeh report of covering up allegations against Jerry Sandusky for more than a decade so that the school’s reputation and football program would not suffer. He was later charged with perjury, endangering the welfare of children, criminal conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and failure to report suspected child abuse.
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Philadelphia City Council’s special committee to investigate the building collapse at 22nd and Market has released its findings this morning — and it ain’t pretty. The Special Investigating Committee on Demolition Practices’ report can be read cynically or pragmatically, but reading it in the former fashion might lead one to believe the city cares less about its citizens than covering its collective governmental behind. From CBS Philly:
The 70-page report from City Council’s makes clear that the city imposes higher standards on its own demolitions than those carried out by contractors on privately owned buildings. For example, contractors demolishing public buildings must submit a criminal background check and provide evidence of competency and experience.
We’ve written before about the lax requirements for becoming a demolition contractor for private jobs, but to seem them in contrast with city requirements is offensive and discouraging.
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The first wrongful death suit in the case of the building collapse at 22nd and Market makes some strong allegations against the Salvation Army, claiming the Christian organization knew the thrift store was unsafe but chose to keep it open for business anyway.
In June the Inquirer reported on a string of communication between building owner STB and the Salvation Army that showed the two groups at legal loggerheads to such a degree that nothing could be accomplished. At the time, STB warned the city that if the Salvation Army continued to delay, something bad could happen. The Salvation Army, however, maintains they were trying to obtain a promise from STB regarding safe demolition practices before things moved forward.
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