Inspector of collapsed Philadelphia building commits suicide

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 13, 2013 1:52 PM

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The city inspector who checked a Philadelphia building before it collapsed last week and killed six people has committed suicide, a spokesman for the mayor said on Thursday.

Ronald Wagenhoffer, 52, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest on Wednesday night, said Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter.

A 16-year veteran of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspection, Wagenhoffer was found dead inside his vehicle in a wooded section of Shawmont Avenue in the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia, McDonald said.

Earlier this week, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced plans to convene a grand jury to investigate the extent of responsibility for the collapse of the building last Wednesday. During demolition work, a wall of the building collapsed, sending debris onto a Salvation Army thrift store adjacent to it. The accident killed six people and injured 13 others.

Wagenhoffer's death means the city has now lost seven people to the building collapse - six at the site, and Wagenhoffer on Wednesday night, Everett Gillison, the deputy mayor for public safety, said at a news conference on Thursday.

"I will tell you right here, right now, this man did nothing wrong," Gillison said. "He did his job and he did it the way he was supposed to do."

Wagenhoffer's boss, Carlton Williams, the commissioner of the Department of Licenses and Inspections, said he was a dedicated employee who loved his job.

Sean Benschop, who was operating a crane at the demolition site when the wall collapsed, is the only person who has been 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.

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The grand jury will also look into the role of city agencies in the incident, Williams said.

On February 25, Wagenhoffer had inspected the building that collapsed and found no problem, McDonald said.

After a citizen complaint, Wagenhoffer inspected a neighboring building on May 14 and again found no problem, McDonald said.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bernadette Baum)