Building owner ‘heartbroken’ over deadly Center City collapse, but says he’s not to blame

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Richard Basciano (left)arrives at City Hall to testify in the civil trial that charges he has responsibility for the building collapse that killed six people in a Salvation Army thrift store in 2013. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

Richard Basciano (left)arrives at City Hall to testify in the civil trial that charges he has responsibility for the building collapse that killed six people in a Salvation Army thrift store in 2013. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

Richard Basciano walked away from the witness stand with a haunted look in his eyes.

For roughly an hour beforehand, the 91-year-old property owner had calmly answered questions about a deadly demolition project at 22nd and Market streets that killed six people in 2013.

Most of them, centered on the qualifications of the people Basciano hired for the Center City project

But a question about his life after a freestanding wall crushed a busy Salvation Army Thrift Store struck a nerve and brought the black-suited developer to tears.

“I’m going through hell,” said Basciano during the fifth week of the civil trial tied to the tragedy. “I’m heartbroken about it.”

The emotional moment abruptly ended testimony for the day.

“I can’t go on,” said Basciano. “I can’t go on.”

Earlier on, Basciano testified about mistakes made by the men he hired to oversee and take down five commercial buildings being demolished along Market, including the “Hoagie City” property — project manager Thomas Simmonds, demolition contractor Griffin Campbell and owner’s representative Plato Marinakos.

He also lamented not being more hands on with the project.

Before the collapse, Basciano said, he was “satisfied” with Campbell’s hiring by Simmonds — his right hand man. Simmonds told him Campbell had “a lot” of demolition experience, even though he knew Simmonds had never vetted a demolition contractor.

Basciano said he only found out later that Campbell was “incompetent,” adding that “we wouldn’t be sitting here today” had someone better qualified been hired for the job.

Campbell didn’t have a contractor’s license with the city before accepting the Market Street job and had only demolished residential properties.

Last October, a Philadelphia jury convicted Campbell of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault for his role in the collapse.

Sean Benschop, an excavator operator, pleaded guilty to the same charges.

Basciano said Wednesday that Marinakos, who was granted immunity from criminal charges in exchange for testimony before a grand jury and at Campbell’s trial, also “made mistakes.”

“What mistakes?” said plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Wigrizer.

“I guess that wall,” said Basciano.

The night before the collapse, Marinakos testified that he stopped by the “Hoagie City” site and told Campbell he had to take down the unbraced, three-story wall looming over the Salvation Army Thrift Store.

It never happened.

Maj. John Cranford with The Salvation Army told jurors he had no idea “external demolition” was occurring at the site, especially with the help of machinery.

An excavator was brought in a few days before the collapse to rip off the façade of the building.

The day of the collapse, Benschop was chipping away at the wall across from the one that collapsed onto the Salvation Army Thrift Store next door.

“It was a terrible thing that happened … and it hurts when I knew what happened. But I don’t feel that we’re responsible for what happened,” said Cranford.

Testimony continues Friday.

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