Grand jury to probe Philadelphia building collapse

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 09, 2013 4:34 PM
Grand jury to probe Philadelphia building collapse

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The Philadelphia District Attorney announced plans on Monday to convene a grand jury to investigate the extent of responsibility for last week's building collapse that killed six people and injured 13 others.

Sean Benschop, who was operating the crane when the Market Street building in Center City fell, is the sole person charged so far in the case. He is being held without bail on charges of involuntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person, causing a catastrophe and risking a catastrophe.

"Philadelphians have no shortage of opinions of the many people that should be held responsible for the perceived actions and inactions that may have played a role in the chain of events that led to the building collapsing," District Attorney Seth Williams said at a news conference.

"The role of the grand jury will be to hear from witnesses, to gather documents, to gather information and then to determine if anyone in addition to Mr. Benschop should be held criminally responsible," he said.

The scope of the grand jury could include a look at the role of city agencies and their policies as well, he said.

The four-story building was being demolished and collapsed onto a Salvation Army Thrift Store next door. Six people were killed and 13 injured, Williams said.

A number of preliminary steps have already been taken to launch civil lawsuits against the building's owners and the demolition company.

Felicia Hill, a 36-year-old mother of seven, is one of six victims filing lawsuits so far and she spoke to reporters on Monday at the offices of Philadelphia law firm Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky.

Hill was working in the thrift store when the wall caved in.

"I felt this shaking, like an earthquake, and then I felt a gust of wind coming in, and I saw the wall fall, and the dust cloud, and I started running for my life," she said.

"The only thing I could think about was my children."

Hill said she was partially buried in rubble and helped out by a passerby and a firefighter. She was "banged up, bruised" and taken to a hospital, she added.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Editing by Andre Grenon)