The Salvation Army will become the latest defendant in litigation over a deadly Philadelphia building collapse, and a contractor has asked to delay the lawsuits amid a criminal grand jury probe.
Six people died inside a Salvation Army thrift store when an adjacent building being demolished collapsed on them in June.
Lawyer Robert Mongeluzzi on Thursday accused the Salvation Army of playing “a game of chicken” with its neighbor over the demolition, despite the known safety risks.
Emails between the building owner, the city and the charity detail the owner’s requests to put a tarp over the small thrift store or place a bucket truck above it to remove an adjacent four-story brick wall by hand. The negotiations were unresolved when the wall collapsed June 5, trapping about 20 people in rubble. Four shoppers and two workers died.
Mongeluzzi, who represents six survivors and the family of one woman who died, has sued the building owner, STB Investments, along with demolition contractor Griffin Campbell, subcontractor Sean Benschop and others.
“The Salvation Army was not unaware of the danger, but rather engaged in a game of chicken with STB over the demolition and its potential danger,” Mongeluzzi said.
Benschop, 42, is charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly operating heavy equipment at the scene while under the influence of a painkiller and marijuana. Authorities believe he was using the excavator to knock down the wall, even though the thrift store remained open.
Campbell has not been charged. However, his lawyer filed a motion Wednesday to delay the lawsuits until a criminal grand jury probe concludes. A city building inspector assigned to the area, on the edge of the city’s business district, committed suicide days after the collapse.
A Salvation Army lawyer, and lawyers for Campbell and Benschop, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday.