Architect in Philly collapse saw danger of unsupported wall, relied on contractor

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Plato A. Marinakos Jr., an architect who worked on a botched 2013 building demolition that killed six people, leaves City Hall after opening statements in the civil trial brought by survivors and families of those killed.

Plato A. Marinakos Jr., an architect who worked on a botched 2013 building demolition that killed six people, leaves City Hall after opening statements in the civil trial brought by survivors and families of those killed. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Plato Marinakos didn’t mince words Monday while on the witness stand. The licensed architect said he didn’t know a lot about demolition while serving as the owner’s representative on a multi-property demolition project in Center City now at the heart of a months-long civil trial.

But he wasn’t completely in the dark.

On June 4, 2013, Marinakos told jurors, he knew there was an “imminently dangerous” problem when he stopped by one of the properties being torn down — a four-story commercial building that sat next to a popular Salvation Army Thrift Store at 22nd and Market streets.

An unsupported, three-story wall loomed above the store, which was scheduled to open the following morning. He realized that it had to come down immediately.

Marinakos, testifying during the fifth week of the trial, said he told general contractor Griffin Campbell that night, and that he “trusted” Campbell to get the job done.

“Up until that point, he was doing OK,” said Marinakos.

But Campbell didn’t take care of the wall. At 10:42 a.m. the next day, it collapsed and crushed the busy thrift store, killing six and injuring 13 more.

Robert Mongeluzzi, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said it happened, in part, because Marinakos was “clueless” and Campbell a “terrible” contractor. A contractor, he said, who wasn’t “doing OK” when it came to demolition safety.

Demolition of  the structure known as the “Hoagie City” building was not the first time Marinakos had to warn Campbell about the dangers posed by an unsupported wall.

During his hours-long cross-examination, Mongeluzzi showed slides of The Forum Theater — an X-rated movie house. The property was one of five being demolished to make way for a glimmering “gateway” project featuring a pair of towers.

Mongeluzzi said Campbell left a freestanding wall there too while it was being taken down.

While he was candid about his own shortcomings, Marinakos dodged questions about Campbell’s qualifications.

But did Marinakos take any responsibility for the deadly collapse?

“No,” said the architect.

Marinakos, who was granted immunity from criminal charges for testifying before a grand jury and at Campbell’s trial, will return to the stand Tuesday.

A Philadelphia jury convicted Campbell of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault for his role in the collapse. He is serving 15 to 30 years behind bars.

 

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