A year later, criminal and civil cases proceed slowly in fatal Philly collapse

 Chain link surrounds the site at 22nd and Market streets where the  Salvation Army Thrift Store collapsed a year ago, killing six. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Chain link surrounds the site at 22nd and Market streets where the Salvation Army Thrift Store collapsed a year ago, killing six. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A Philadelphia judge Tuesday denied a pair of defense motions to drop conspiracy from the criminal charges lodged after last summer’s deadly building collapse in Center City.

The conspiracy charges are part of the slow-moving civil and criminal legal process in the aftermath of the collapse that killed six and injured 14 at 22nd and Market streets.

Just two days before the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, lawyers for Sean Benschop, an excavator operator, and general contractor Griffin Campbell argued that their clients did not knowingly put lives at risk.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, maintained the men consciously decided to work dangerously even after they were warned.

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“We’re talking about leaving a freestanding, unsupported wall looming over the Salvation Army and using an enormous, heavy piece of equipment rumbling around, causing vibrations, knocking into parts of the building,” said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber.

During February’s preliminary hearing, Plato Marinakos, the site’s architect, testified that he told Campbell the night before the collapse that the four-story wall had to be taken down.

An official with the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections testified at the same hearing that Benschop’s boss was cited last year after he found Benschop using a backhoe to demolish a South Philadelphia home flanked by two occupied properties, a violation of the city’s building code.

An unsupported wall was also found at the site, according to testimony.

Daine Grey, Benschop’s attorney, said Tuesday his client “assumed that adequate safety measures were in place.”

“He did not control the means of demolition, did not control the method of demolition, he simply followed what his employer did,” said Grey. “There were a number of other workers who followed instructions in taking down portions of the building that were not arrested.”

Grey said his client is a scapegoat. It’s a point with which Campbell’s lawyer, Bill Hobson, wholeheartedly agreed.

“Griff Campbell is not the kind of guy that’s going to be invited to $1,000-plate fundraisers,” said Hobson, who characterized his client as a working-class guy with no connections.

It could be another year before Benschop and Campbell stand trial on third degree murder charges.

Pending legal action

Additional legal matters tied to the collapse are also pending.

More than a dozen civil suits have been filed by survivors and victims’ families.

Some witnesses will be deposed this summer and fall, but it will likely be years before any settlements are reached.

In November, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Benschop and Campbell for a variety of violations and proposed $400,000 in fines.

Those fines have been contested and are likely headed for a hearing.

A grand jury investigation launched by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office is also ongoing.

Six people were killed and 14 others were injured on June 5, 2013, when a freestanding, four-story wall of a building under demolition “pancaked” onto a Salvation Army thrift store.

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