It’s taken months, but closing arguments are scheduled to start Tuesday in the high-profile civil trial tied to Center City Philadelphia’s deadly building collapse in 2013. The jury is expected to begin its deliberations later this week.
The panel has heard from dozens of witnesses during more than three months of testimony. The long list has included victims and defendants, as well city officials and construction and retail experts.
Lawyers representing those killed and injured have argued that the collapse at 22nd and Market streets was “no accident.” They say the building’s owner and the men hired to demolish the four-story building knew the property at the heart of the case was being taken down dangerously and did nothing.
They also maintain that The Salvation Army, which owned the neighboring thrift store that was crushed by an unbraced wall, is to blame.
At around 10:42 a.m. on June 5, 2013, the unsupported, three-story brick wall of the “Hoagie City” building pancaked onto the busy thrift store, sending debris and a large dust cloud into one of the city’s busiest intersections.
Mariya Plekan was the last victim to be rescued, roughly 13 hours later. She lost both of her legs at the hip after being trapped beneath the rubble in a space too tight to reach her cell phone.
“The tragedy of this horror … was that it was expected and it was predicted,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Mongeluzzi during his opening statement.
Defense lawyers have argued that their clients were removed from day-to-day decision making or relied on or trusted people with more experience than them.
On the witness stand, officials with The Salvation Army and other defendants have called the collapse tragic but haven’t taken on any responsibility for it.
Building owner Richard Basciano wept, telling jurors he was “heartbroken” over the collapse.
“I’m going through hell,” said Basciano.
The 91-year-old, and his real estate company STB Investments Corp., could lose millions if a jury finds them financially responsible for the collapse.
Project manager Thomas Simmonds (Basciano’s “right-hand man”), owner’s representative Plato Marinakos, and demolition contractor Griffin Campbell are also among the individuals who may be found liable.
Marinakos, a licensed architect, was granted immunity from criminal charges for testifying before a grand jury and Campbell’s trial.
Last October, a Philadelphia jury found Campbell guilty of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault for his role in the collapse. Excavator operator Sean Benschop, whose machine was chipping away the building moments before the collapse, is also in jail after pleading guilty to the same charges.
Benschop is serving 7 ½ to 15 years behind bars. Campbell was sentenced to double that.